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Re: Question about HTML abbr and acronym tags

From: Jukka K. Korpela <jkorpela@cs.tut.fi>
Date: Wed, 9 Jan 2008 14:30:03 +0200
Message-ID: <025b01c852bb$5cbe0c60$0400000a@DOCENDO>
To: <www-html@w3.org>

Nicholas Shanks wrote:

> <ssml:phoneme alphabet="x-apple-macintalk"
> ph="hAXrtfIXdSIXr"><ssml:phoneme ph="h a1 r t f ah0 d sh ah0 r"
> alphabet="x-cepstral-swift">Hertfordshire</ssml:phoneme></ssml:phoneme>

That's not HTML, is it? But maybe it is of interest to see that no 
<abbr> or <acronym> markup is present, or needed, and wouldn't be needed 
even if you wanted to specify the pronunciation of an abbreviation or an 
acronym (in whatever sense).

> FWIW I define 'acronym' and 'abbreviation' as follows:
> abbreviation: a shortened form of a word or phrase
> acronym: an abbreviation of a phrase constructed from the initial
> letters of its constituent words.

There are many definitions for them, and that's part of my point. Your 
definition for "acronym" does not match the definition in many 
dictionaries, but at least it's _some_ definition (in contrast with 
HTML, which does not define it at all).

> Acronyms, in good typographical environments (e.g. print), should be
> lettered in small-caps.

This is even reflected in the sample style sheets for HTML in CSS specs. 
This is one of the many reasons why the markup is not useable. Some day 
some vendor might take such ideas seriously. (There's no reason why a 
browser should display acronyms in small-caps _by default_. Besides, 
small-caps are not displayed by browsers. Instead, font-variant: 
small-caps makes them use reduced-size capital letters, which is - as 
any typographer could tell you - something completely different, and 

> Abbreviations tend to be all lower case, or initial capital.

They tend to be all kinds of things, depending on language and 

> There are also some crazy hybrid things like "MySQL" which is a word
> and an acronym conjoined.

There are many kinds of hybrids, and they're becoming increasingly 
common especially in marketese.

> On teletext and their website, the BBC are notable for doing something
> weird, where acronyms pronounced as a word, such as NASA, are initial-
> caps only: Nasa. Acronyms pronounced letter by letter, such as BBC
> itself, are all caps.

Such practice is standard (prescribed by language authorities) for 
Finnish and most probably for many other languages using a bicameral 
script. Except that they're not called acronyms.

> They don't use small-caps and give some lame
> 'doesn't work in all environments' excuse.

It's lame indeed. "Doesn't work at all" would be better, if we're 
discussing the WWW. Prove me wrong by giving the URL of web page that 
contains small-caps text. Fake "small-caps" won't do. (Rule of thumb: 
the height of a real small-caps letter is close to the x-height of the 
font. And you _don't_ create it by using a capital letter in reduced 
font size.)

> The same excuse they use
> for stripping all diacritics off foreign words.

It's not comparable at all, since diacritics generally work fine on the 
web. And BBC probably drops diacritics only when they are relevant, in 
words that are really foreign to the editors.

Jukka K. Korpela ("Yucca")
Received on Wednesday, 9 January 2008 12:30:18 UTC

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