W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > January to March 2001

Re: ABBR vs ACRONYM, round 57894174803

From: David Woolley <david@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2001 13:32:40 +0000 (GMT)
Message-Id: <200102101332.f1ADWeo19888@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
> abbreviations. As I have said, the difference between an abbreviation and an
> acronym rests in that this last it is the contraction of a name. I have
> taken the nuisance of revising on-line several dictionaries (English
> dictionaries) and they define clearly this difference.

From my offline English dictionary:

  a word, usually pronounced as such, formed from the intial letters of
  other words (e.g. Ernie, laser, Nato).

Note that all of these examples are pronounced in English, not spelled
out.  (The full forms are:  Electronic Random Number Indicating Equipment,
Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, and North
Atlantic Treaty Organisation.)

The etymology is given as being from greek "end" and "name".

Unfortunately, "word", by its nature, has rather a long set of definitions
in a dictionary, but the first one is:

  a sound or combination of sounds forming a meaningful element of speech,
  usually shown with a space on either side of it when written or printed,
  used as part (or occasionally the whole) of a sentence.

No definition gives it as being merely a collection of letters.

I'd say the only slight ambiguity here was whether "usually pronounced"
means that any single acronym may occasionlly be spelled out or expanded,
but is pronounced most of the time, or whether it means that there
are some acronyms that are never pronounced.  I favour the first
interpretation.

Furthermore, the intialism  ILO (International Labour Oganisation)
is marked as an abbreviation in the dictionary, but laser is defined
as though it were a normal word, with its structure only given in the
etymology.  These were the first abbreviation I found and the first
acronym I tried.  Interestingly, WYSIWYG is explictly also given as a
word, with a pronunciation and an etymology explicitly stating that it
is an acronym; this is a case were I am as likely to pronounce it as
to expand it, but would not spell it out.  It is treated as a word and
acronym because it can be pronouced wiziwig (more accurately Unicode
(hex) code points U+0077, U+026a, U+007a, U+026a, U+0077, U+0261, in
the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA - also labelled an abbreviation).
Actually, I think all the abbreviations I've seen definitions for
in passing, are initialisms.

The definition for "initialism" includes "cf acronym".  "cf" (abbrevation,
but not initialism) means compare, implying that the words have 
similar but distinct meanings.  I was surprised that "initialism" is
in the dictionary, as it is not in common use, but it is.

Source:  the W H Smith Concise Dictionary (a version of the eighth
edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, with additional appendices)
ISBN 0-19-861295-8.  Unicode transcoding taken from The Unicode
Standard Version 3.0 ISBN 0-201-61633-5.

> Also, I believe that the specifications are not only edited for the
> English-speaking world.

My own suspicion is that the definition has become confused because
of:

- differences between speakers of different langaguages on the committees;
- general confusion about the meaning even in the English speaking world.

I would say that SNCF was an initialism and abbreviation, but not
an acronym, in the English language.  I'm not familiar with the
Spanish example in the specification.  I can't comment on the 
Spanish equivalents of "abbreviation" and "acronym".
Received on Saturday, 10 February 2001 08:35:12 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0+W3C-0.50 : Tuesday, 19 July 2011 18:13:53 GMT