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

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Mon, 5 Feb 2001 22:39:01 -0800
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <004601c09007$7e10e0a0$0100a8c0@aries>
Kynn wrote:
"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?"

CIO and HTML are abbreviations formed using initials. They are not acronyms.
But in the worlds of business and particularly software, initials have
become popular alternatives to spelling everything out. The problem is that,
while convenient, these can hurt communication. I suspect that even on this
list there are people who do not know what CIO stands for. Saying "chief
information officer" instead of "CIO" - at least occasionally - might help.
But yes, I say "see aye oh" and "aitch tee em el."
Similarly, SQL is really a set of initials, not an acronym. Pronouncing it
"sequel" blurs the distinction between initials and acronyms and further
confuses the issue (not that I haven't been guilty of this).

I've never heard CIO spoken "sigh-oh" or HTML pronounced "hutmull."
Personally, I think that stretches convenience into laziness and tortures
the language a bit too severely for my ears. Really, the best acronyms are
those that produce a new meaning when pronounced (see MADD below). I find
pronouncing WAI as the "way" is kind of clever (since it is definitely the
way IMO). But I suppose it could be the why, too. (Actually, that might make
more sense. Wai? Because of the wai it's spelled.)

"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."

This is a good reason for organizations like the WAI to establish a set
pronunciation (and for the use of acronym to establish that pronunciation).
Agreed upon pronunciations promote communication. Of course, "way" may sound
like "why" to an American when spoken by someone from the UK, but that can
be attributed to accent. It would help if two people with the same accent
pronounced WAI in the same manner. As for attribute or style sheet, I can
see arguments for both. (BTW, W is pronounced "double-U.")

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

I agree. But there are two courses of action possible: ignore/abolish it or
give it a unique meaning. I favor the second because I believe that it is a
distinction worth mentioning (and because I believe that the more semantic
information we can encode, the better). To use an example I've used before,
MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is an acronym that loses a significant
part of it's meaning if it is spelled out instead of being pronounced "mad."

Chas. Munat
Received on Tuesday, 6 February 2001 01:31:38 UTC

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