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ABBR vs ACRONYM, round 57894174803

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-edapta@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Mon, 05 Feb 2001 08:05:29 -0800
Message-Id: <>
To: "Bailey, Bruce" <Bruce_Bailey@ed.gov>
Cc: "'w3c-wai-ig@w3.org'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, "'sean@mysterylights.com'" <sean@mysterylights.com>
At 07:10 AM 2/5/2001 , Bailey, Bruce wrote:
>Okay, I'm confused!  The result of one of those "thousand times before"
>discussion lead me quite clearly to understand that, in actual practice, the
>ONLY difference between ABBR and ACRONYM is that the latter should be read
>(mentally, or out loud) as a word and that the former should be spelled out.

That's what common sense might tell you, but read the HTML 4.01
spec; it's not how the spec defines (by implication) the difference.

According to HTML 4.01 specification (with appropriate interpretation):

* ABBR is a general-purpose tag for indicating a shortened version
   of textual content, of any kind.  For example, it's fair to 
   label <ABBR title="abbreviation">ABBR</ABBR> ("ABBR" is an 
   abbreviated form of abbreviation), as well as <ABBR
   title="World Wide Web">WWW</ABBR> ("WWW" is an abbreviated form
   of World Wide Web.)

   Examples of "abbreviations" from the 4.01 specifications:
   - WWW
   - HTTP
   - M.
   - Inc.
   - et al.
   - etc.
   - SNCF
   - Do&ntilde;a
   - abbr.

* ACRONYM is a specific type of abbreviated form; it is (apparently)
   intended to mark up initialisms -- words formed from the first
   (or first few) letters of a string of words.  There is no
   requirement that these be pronounced "as words" instead of "as
   strings of letters."

   Examples of "acronyms" according to HTML 4.01:

   - GmbH
   - NATO
   - F.B.I.

* The ABBR and ACRONYM elements do _not_ imply any specific
   pronunciations; this is clearly stated in the HTML 4.01 spec as

   "Note that abbreviations and acronyms often have idiosyncratic
    pronunciations. For example, while "IRS" and "BBC" are typically
    pronounced letter by letter, "NATO" and "UNESCO" are pronounced
    phonetically. Still other abbreviated forms (e.g., "URI" and "SQL")
    are spelled out by some people and pronounced as words by other
    people. When necessary, authors should use style sheets to specify
    the pronunciation of an abbreviated form."

So what are the implications of this?

1.  ABBR is more general and less confusing.
2.  ACRONYM really should be INITIAL.
3.  The distinction between "abbreviated form" and "initialism" is
     not useful in any meaningful way.
4.  It's probably better to use ABBR and pretend as if ACRONYM were
     deprecated since ABBR is general purpose and since ACRONYM doesn't
     do what most people think it _should_ do.


Kynn Bartlett
Sr. Engineering Product Leader
Team Edapta
Reef North America
Tel +1 909-674-5225
Received on Monday, 5 February 2001 12:23:27 UTC

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