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<acronym? [was: www-html archives ]

From: Alan J. Flavell <flavell@mail.cern.ch>
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 1997 21:35:20 +0200 (METDST)
To: Dan Connolly <connolly@w3.org>
Cc: www-html@w3.org
Message-Id: <Pine.A41.3.95a.970730205838.99718Z-100000@sp049>
On Wed, 30 Jul 1997, Dan Connolly wrote:

> Alan J. Flavell wrote:
> > I was very frustrated reading the discussion on <ACRONYM>; is
> > it too late to remedy that?   A pity.
> I don't think it's too late for anything, 

Well, In the HTML4.0 draft I was surprised to see the way that the term
"acronym" was being interpreted.  I composed a short item that I emailed
to the stated address, www-html-editor@w3.org, and posted to the
alt.usage.english usenet group, as well as c.i.w.a.html.

I would say that although there are some disagreements, the balance of
opinion in the usenet discussion favoured the view that the term
"acronym" definitely covers "words made up from initial letters", i.e
that are pronounced. 

Some people (myself not included) use the term more loosely, to
encompass also combinations of initials that are not pronounced, but
the balance of opinion seems to be that if a specific term is needed
for those, they are "initialisms" (this term is not in very common
use, however).

The term "abbreviation" could be understood to encompass all of these
things and many more.

As there seemed to have been no direct reaction to the email copy of my
little article, I was motivated to raise this issue again on the
strength of the usenet discussion. 

What's particularly upsetting is that that HTML4.0 draft seemed to imply
that the term "ACRONYM" specifically _ex_cluded combinations of initial
letters that were pronounced.  None of the specimens presented as
examples seems to be normally pronounced, and the assertion: 

| Acronyms are generally spoken by pronouncing the individual letters
| separately. 

is entirely contrary to normal usage.

It wasn't clear whether this should be understood to mean that, for
example, UNESCO was not an acronym at all (which contradicts normal
interpretation of the term) or whether writing <ACRONYM>UNESCO</> would
(per HTML4.0) mean that the letters had to be spelled out one by one,
which is, I need hardly say, not the normal usage.

Now that I have been shown the location of the current WWW-HTML
archives, I see that there has been quite some discussion relating to
this term "acronym", but on reviewing that discussion, I was frustrated
to find a number of people discussing various technical details adjacent
to the issue, without it being in the least clear that the participants
had yet agreed on what an "acronym" was. 

The HTML3.0 draft, as you obviously know, drew a distinction between
"abbreviations" and "acronyms", but without stating what it thought
they were.  I obviously assumed that they would mean what I was 
accustomed to, as this was consistent with what appeared in the
dictionaries I was familiar with; however, I can't help suspecting
that several of the participants (a fortiori the person who actually
drafted this part of the 4.0 spec) have some quite incompatible view
of what it means.

I beg you to reconsider this issue; the existing HTML4.0 definition is
quite clearly inconsistent with the widespread usage of the term
"acronym".  _If_ you need a term for what is described there now, it
would have to be an "initialism" (let's say <INITIALS>); possibly, you
don't really want such a term, but rather, <ABBREV> to cover the more
general concept of truncated word(s), and <ACRONYM> for the more
specific case of _pronounceable_ words made up from initials.

best regards (I'm not subscribed to the www-html list)

I'm taking the liberty of copying my original item here.

Date: Sat, 12 Jul 1997 15:58:07 +0200
From: "Alan J. Flavell" <flavell@mail.cern.ch>
To: www-html-editor@w3.org
Newsgroups: comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html, alt.usage.english
Subject: ACRONYM?

I refer to the draft of HTML4.0, and specifically to

My dictionary, as well as Fowler's Modern English Usage 2nd edition,
defines the term "acronym" as a word that is made up from initial
letters, for example NATO, UNESCO.  The fact that the word is able to be
pronounced, and is in fact pronounced, is essential to its being an
acronym.  Strings of initials that aren't pronounced as words, e.g HTML,
are disqualified from being called acronyms: they are "abbreviations"
(the most generic term) or "initialisms" (a more specific, though less
commonly used, term). 

As such, none of the examples that you present at the above-cited URL
(WWW, HTML, IRS, SNCF)  are in fact acronyms, except for "URL" if it's
pronounced (myself I still say yoo-are-ell, so for me URL isn't an
acronym either).  Unless "Fnac" is pronounced as written - I have no
idea about that. 

 "Acronyms are generally spoken by pronouncing the individual letters

Absolutely not.  It's evident that your concept of "acronym" doesn't
even overlap with the one in the dictionary, since by your suggestion it
would appear that UNESCO, radar, Benelux etc. would all have to be
laboriously spelled out letter by letter.  What's worse, by misapplying
the only available term for this useful concept, you no longer have any
way to say that a particular abbreviation is, in fact, meant to be
pronounced as written.  This is all very unsatisfactory. 

I'd say that your version of <ACRONYM> needs to be called something
else, maybe <ABBREV>.  Whether there needs to be a tag called <ACRONYM>
could be a matter for discussion, but if there is one, it needs to
denote initialisms that are in fact meant to be pronounced, just as the
dictionary says.  Not to abbreviations that are spelled out letter by
letter, and certainly not to _exclude_ abbreviations that are pronounced
as written. 

best regards
Received on Wednesday, 30 July 1997 15:35:26 UTC

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