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RE: proper use of abbr and acronym

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Sat, 18 Nov 2000 11:53:35 -0800
To: "'Al Gilman'" <asgilman@iamdigex.net>, "'WAI Interest Group \(E-mail\)'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <000101c05199$3d3bcfb0$0100a8c0@aries>
Sigh. I guess I should clearly state when my posts are tongue-in-cheek.
Still, Al's was a fascinating (and eloquent) reply
(http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2000OctDec/0358.html).

If we're going to use <abbr> and <acronym> interchangeably, why not just
drop <acronym>? Why clutter the language with superfluous elements?

This, of course, is the same argument I make for carefully defining acronym
in the lexicon. If a word in English has an exact synonym, then what good is
it? It's just bulking up an already bulky language.

So if the etymology of acronym is "tall name" (or more likely, "name made
from the tips of words"), who cares? A more important question is, Is it
useful?

To call HTML an acronym rather than (more generically) an abbreviation tells
me that it is created from "the first (or first few) letters of a series of
words" (Webster's), but so what? The same could be said of etc. or i.e. Are
these acronyms? How does it benefit us to so label them? Does anyone really
care *how* an abbreviation is formed?

On the other hand, defining acronym to be a word (pronounceable and,
preferably, with an established meaning) created from the first few letters
of other words, *does* serve a useful function. How else to describe
adequately an abbreviation such as MADD, so pregnant with meaning? Tell me
it's an acronym and I get it: it's not just M-A-D-D, it's MAD, as in these
women are ANGRY. To define acronym merely as "initials" leaves us without a
word to accurately describe this distinction. The National Organization of
Women wants equality for women NOW. BASIC is an easy to learn first computer
language. And so on. Here is where the usefulness of this word lies. Why
throw it away?

So I say, when coding in HTML, use <abbr> and let's just drop <acronym>.
When speaking English, however, make every word count. Use acronym solely to
refer to abbreviations which create pronounceable and meaningful words.

And now, if you'll all just listen to me, the problem is solved!


Charles F. Munat,
Seattle, Washington


P.S. Hey! How about this: we'll define a new tag instead. Example:

<abbr title="Mister">Mr.</abbr>
<acronym title="Mothers Against Drunk Driving">MADD</acronym>
<initials title="Hypertext Markup Language">HTML</initials>

What do you say?
Received on Saturday, 18 November 2000 14:48:13 GMT

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