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

From: Charles McCathieNevile <charles@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 5 Feb 2001 22:56:39 -0500 (EST)
To: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-edapta@idyllmtn.com>
cc: "Charles F. Munat" <chas@munat.com>, <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.30.0102052227280.8969-100000@tux.w3.org>
I am on shaky ground here. I believe what Charles has said is correct, but I
am also inclined to go and look at the greatest source I know on what the
English language means to the people who use it.

Some more comments inline...

On Mon, 5 Feb 2001, Kynn Bartlett wrote:

  At 06:02 PM 2/5/2001 , Charles F. Munat wrote:
  >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
  I'm not sure about that.  What exactly do you call "CIO" or "HTML"?
  Do you say "See Eye Oh" or do you say "Sigh-Oh"?  Do you say "hutmul"
  or do you say "Aitch Tee Em Ell"?  Or are CIO and HTML neither
  abbreviations nor acronyms?
They are definitely abbreviations. As I understand it, since they are not
pronounced as words they are not acronyms.
  Pronunciation, as identified in the HTML 4.01 spec, is an issue for
  stylesheets.  "WAI" may be "dubya ay eye" to some people and "way"
  to others and "why" to yet more folks.  SQL and URL are examples of
  ambiguity cited in the HTML 4.01 spec.
WAI may also be double-you ay eye, as it is to me. And there are examples of
ambiguity. So it seems to me that what Charles is arguing is that it is
helpful to mark up abbreviations, especially including an expansion for them
(ABC is a classic - often used, and has plenty of meanings...). For the class
of things which are abbreviations that are names formed from the beginnings
of words (that's what the greek words that acronym comes from imply) it is
helpful to mark them as such. Providing further information about exactly how
to pronounce them (which of course varies between languages, even languages
as close as american and australian english) is probably best left to
languages that are suited for presentation - CSS might or mioght not have the
power, or it might be better to use SSML - Speech Synthesis Markup Language,
currently under development by the W3C Voice Browser working group, and just
finished last call.

  >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 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.
  Exactly:  As defined by the HTML 4.01 spec, the ACRONYM element is of
  no use.

As I have argued above, the specification may be deficient, but the element
is potentially very useful.


Charles McCN
Received on Monday, 5 February 2001 22:56:47 UTC

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