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RE: ABBR vs. ACRONYM

From: Marjolein Katsma <access@javawoman.com>
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2000 19:41:04 +0100
Message-Id: <4.1.20000223191045.059fed70@pop3.demon.nl>
To: "Gregory J. Rosmaita" <unagi69@concentric.net>
Cc: WAI Interest Group Emailing List <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Hello Gregory,

At 16:42 2000-02-22 -0500, Gregory J. Rosmaita wrote:
>since i'm not sure what the expansion for IOW is, i can't comment upon 
>where something such as m.a.w. might fall into a classification schema for 
>abbreviations...  i do, however, think that any compound term that is 
>abbreviated (whether or not periods are used -- especially since, at least 
>in english -- it is possible to discard the periods and still have a usable 
>acronym, such as FBI, which is considered as valid a spelling (at least 
>according to the 3 spell-checkers i have at my disposal) as F.B.I.), could 
>-- and should -- be marked up using ACRONYM, a point on which, i fear, i 
>have been less than clear in past posts...

Apologies for not providing proper markup for "IOW". On online fora and newsgroups it is a much used abbreviation / acronym for "in other words".

>
>where this distinction may well fall apart, as you pointed out, is in 
>languages, in which it is possible to form an abbreviated form of a 
>compound term using parts of words or a mixture of syllables and initial 
>letters
>
>which is something that needs to be investigated by the W3C's 
>internationalization working group, as well as the WAI's protocols and 
>formats working group...

There truly is an internationalization aspect here since not only defintions differ between languages but a definition HTML that is insufficiently clear to international web builders may lead to confusion and hence the "safe" decision not to use ABBR or ACRONYM at all (that way at least you don't use the wrong one).

You write "at least in english - it is possible to discard the periods and still have a usable acronym."

But Dutch is not English as we all realize - and in Dutch this is absolutely _not_ possible. An abbreviation, including a multi-word abbreviation, is something very different from an acronym.  M.a.w. is an abbreviation, never an acronym and it's simply incorrect spelling to discard the periods.

A Dutch site builder with some knowledge of grammar, wanting to mark up m.a.w. and being presented with a list of possible tags, would invariably choose ABBR and not ACRONYM for this. But if she were to look up the HTML standard, she would only be confused. The examples given don't really clarify, and besides, are "e.g." and "etc." part of the list of examples?
Note that both are in fact Latin, and the English custom of using Latin abbreviations (?) like this is not mirrored in other languages. We do use "etc." but also the Dutch "enz." (enzovoort); we never use Latin for the expression "for example" but when abbreviated just abbreviate the Dutch "bij voorbeeld" to "b.v.". Interesting here is that you can also write "bijvoorbeeld" as one word (dependant on context!) in which case the abbreviation would be "bv.". There is a very subtle but real difference in meaning. So the very use of both "e.g." and "etc." in both explanations in HTML 4 only strengthens the confusion...

The difference between an abbreviation and an acronym in Dutch is subtle and hard to explain but very real. I can still try:

An acronym is never formed just as an abbreviation: it is formed to create a (new) word. I also observe that an acronym (I think not just in Dutch) is usually a proper name or a noun. But in Dutch an abbreviation can be adverbial expression, or similar, while you'd never turn such an  expression or clause into an acronym. (The "nym" part of the linguistic construct also indicates "noun" or "name", I think.)

Cheers,

Marjolein Katsma
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Received on Wednesday, 23 February 2000 13:41:35 GMT

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