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RE: ABBR vs ACRONYM, round 57894174803 [a tirade]

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Mon, 5 Feb 2001 18:02:24 -0800
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <003c01c08fe0$d9a417b0$0100a8c0@aries>
An acronym is a word composed of the first letter or first few letters of
other words and intended to be pronounced as a separate word, e.g., RADAR
from RAdio Detection And Ranging. As you can see, it is not simply the
initials of the key words. The A of And is included to make it
pronounceable. If it were initials, you would not see the A of RAdio *or*
the A of And - it would be simply RDR.

ALL acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.
Whether an abbreviation consists of a shortened form of a word (e.g., abbr.
for abbreviation) or initials (e.g., e.g. for exempli gratia) is of little
importance. But that an abbreviation is intended to be pronounced as a unit
*is* important. Acronyms are *always* pronounced as a word, and the correct
pronunciation is not always apparent.

Since the military practically invented acronyms, anyone who has served in
the military (in the U.S. anyway) should know this. We go to DEFCON 4. I
have to go on a WESTPAC. He got his orders from COMSUBLANT. Note that none
of these acronyms looks anything like initials (DC4, WP, CSA).

Because we have two different animals here, we need two different elements.
ABBR is correct for *any* abbreviation, including acronyms. But we could
include more semantic data if we used ACRONYM correctly, and added a
pronunciation attribute. Simply adding a pronunciation via CSS is not
adequate because the difference between ACRONYM and ABBR is structural.

Lots of people are confused about the difference between abbreviations and
acronyms, just as lots of people don't know the difference between imply and
infer, or accept and except. That some are ignorant of the distinction is no
reason to pretend that it does not exist. That some are too stubborn or lazy
to recognize the difference even after it has been pointed out to them
repeatedly also is no reason to dismiss it.

We can live without acronym, but why should we? Why kill off a very useful
word by making it synonymous with abbreviation? Since much of
"accessibility" is really about communication, we should all be advocating
*more* precision in language, not less.

The above are facts, though some would pretend they are opinions. Here is
another fact: The HTML/XHTML recommendations are wrong about acronyms. Here
is an opinion: I think that we should fix them instead of acquiescing and
dropping the useful element "acronym." That browsers don't currently support
them is *no* reason at all to avoid acronym. Do what is right, regardless of
whether others recognize it as right. This is called "leadership," and it's
what the W3C (and all of us) *should* be doing.

If people want to use ABBR for all abbreviations and to disregard ACRONYM,
that's their right. Hell, I'd be happy if they just started using ABBR! But
you don't dumb down standards to meet the laziness of the mob. You set
standards where they should be, and then encourage others to strive for them
(and the best form of encouragement is to SET THE EXAMPLE).

While we're at it, permit me to set the record straight on a related issue:
ABBREVIATIONS ARE NOT PRONOUNCED (unless they are acronyms). For example,
the abbreviation for my name - Charles - is C H A S PERIOD: Chas. This is a
written shorthand, not an aural one. Chas. is pronounced "Charles" not
"Chaz", just as Wm. is William not "Wim" and Jos. is Joseph not "Jahs." Some
abbreviations for foreign terms are better translated. Thus instead of "E G"
say "for example" and instead of "I E" say "that is." As an added benefit,
if you pronounce them and translate them, you'll be less likely to misuse
them.

I know this has been beaten to death on this list... but I cannot grasp the
reluctance of many to accept that 2 + 2 = 4. It seems to me that there
shouldn't even be an issue here, but still there are regular posts insisting
that 2 + 2 = 5. Why? Even if it weren't already sparklingly clear that
acronyms are meant to be pronounced, there are obvious benefits to defining
the term acronym in this manner, and no benefit to making it simply
synonymous with initials or abbreviation. SO WHAT IS THE POINT?

And that's my tirade for February.

<abbr title="Charles">Chas.</abbr> <abbr title="Francis">F.</abbr> Munat
<abbr title="Chief Executive Officer">CEO</abbr>,
Munat, <abbr title="Incorporated">Inc.</abbr>
Seattle, <abbr title="Washington">WA</abbr>
Not an acronym in sight...

P.S. That the Spanish may have misunderstood acronym is too bad. It's an
American word. In America, a pousse cafe is a layered drink. Does this mean
that the French should stop applying it to a cordial served with coffee
after dinner? And as some have already pointed out on this list, if ACRONYM
*isn't* an abbreviation that's pronounced as a word, then of what use is the
ACRONYM element? None.
Received on Monday, 5 February 2001 20:55:21 GMT

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