[thelist] Use of <abbr title>

Andrew Forsberg andrew at thepander.co.nz
Fri Mar 15 02:30:00 CST 2002

Hi Madhu

> >Umm, so your opinion and Madhu's is right, while a direct quote from a
> >reputable dictionary like the Concise Oxford is wrong? An acronym is usually
> >pronounced as a word, but not necessarily.
> Oh boy, this means war. ;)

Oh please, let's not.

> >Every dictionary says the same thing,

Disclaimer: that was phrased poorly and I apologize -- I should have
said: 'every one of the ten dictionaries available to me at the time of
writing said the same thing'. On returning home I discovered that the
Collins English dictionary (3rd ed. 1991) does state that it should be
pronounced as a word. In an off-list discussion with another evolter I
was told that the 7th edition of the OED Concise doesn't state anything
about 'being pronounced as a word' at all, although it didn't state the
opposite either, the edition I quoted was the 9th. FWIW I place no trust
in the Collins dictionary.

 including dictionary.com:
> >
> >http://www.dictionary.com/search?q=acronym
> Did you read that properly?

Yup. I can read. :-)

> Here's what it says:
> <quote>
> A word formed from the initial letters of a name, such as WAC for Women's
> Army Corps, or by combining initial letters or parts of a series of words,
> such as RADAR for radio detecting and ranging.
> </quote>
> I think the "has to be" is pretty much implied there.

Why? It says:
1) 'A word formed from the initial letters of a name...' -- word being
the superset of acronyms, abbreviations, nouns, verbs, etc etc etc. Not
all 'words' are pronounced phonetically (are examples of this *really*
2) '... or by combining initial letters or parts of a series of
words...' -- like RADAR, HTML, SQL (yea yea, the 'real' pronunciation of
SQL <duck />).

> I don't see a "usually" anywhere in that definition.

'Usually' was in the Oxford concise, there's no mention here about how
an acronym is pronounced at all.

> But you probably need a bit more convincing,


> so here are a few more sources:
> * Miriam-Webster dictionary
> * Encarta World Dictionary

Both examples identical to the above, and the same argument against them

> Naah... that's not good enough.

Hole in one!

> let's try a few sources with "Oxford" in their names.

Wasn't trying to be snobby by referencing the Oxford Concise. It just
happened to be the best dictionary to hand. Compared to unsubstantiated
assertions by John and yourself, I didn't think there was any argument.
That's not a personal attack, as I'm sure you know -- it's a suspicion
of any 'this is how it is' claims without an attempt at providing
evidence. Thanks for making the attempt. :-)

> * The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics
> (http://www.xrefer.com/entry/570369)
> </quote>
> A word formed from the initial letters of two or more successive words:
> e.g. ASH, phonetically [a[integral]], from 'Action on Smoking and Health'.
> </quote>

So their one example is phonetically pronounced... pfft, can provide
hundreds like that.

> * The Oxford Companion to the English Language
> (http://www.xrefer.com/entry/440819)
> <quote>
> An abbreviation formed from the first letters of a series of words and
> pronounced as one word: NATO from North Atlantic Treaty Organization,
> pronounced 'Nay-toe'; radar from radio detection and ranging, pronounced
> 'ray-dar'.
> </quote>

The first quote outside the Collins where there's a definition to
contradict the OED Concise. See below for counter-examples.

> * Here's a site called, of all things, AcronymFinder.com and here's how
> they define an acronym (http://www.acronymfinder.com/about.asp#what)
> <quote>
> An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from each of the first letters of
> a descriptive phrase. An acronym is actually a type of abbreviation.
> </quote>

Well, I didn't pretend this wasn't a popular opinion, and one which many
people strongly believe to be true. Language isn't something made up by
third parties either. (Well, OK, it is something that's made up by
everyone all the time, but that's another argument -- we're talking
about definitions, acronymfinder.com is pretty low on the scale of
English language references (correct me if I'm wrong).)

> and finally, you asked where it says that it *has* to be pronounced as a
> word. So I give you...
> * The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (http://www.xrefer.com/entry/591114)
> <quote>
> The test of a true acronym is often assumed to be that it SHOULD
[uppercase stress added by Madhu <strong><ahem /></strong>]
> be pronounceable as a word within the normal word patterns of English. By such
> a reckoning, BBC is not an acronym but an abbreviation; whereas Nato ( =
> North Atlantic Treaty Organization), being pronounceable like Cato, is an
> acronym.
> </quote>
> Need I quote more sources?

I'd pay more attention to the 'is often assumed to be' than the
'should'. That aside, and TBH, you have only one source.

If it's a matter of Fowler's (frequently debated) vs Oxford (also
debated), then it explains why this discussion appears in many different
forums. It is curious that no English language academics (4), or editors
(3), I've asked over the past 24 hours have any doubt about the matter.

Two counter citations:

(Three Letter Acronym, pronounced tee el ay; ETLA: Extended Three Letter
Acronym, pronounced ee tee el ay.)

(Oxford Companion to the English Language, same reference as your own,
but a different selection <cough />):
Some lexicologists regard the acronym as a kind of initialism; others
see it as contrasting with the initialism, in which case that term is
restricted to abbreviations that are pronounced only as sequences of
letters: for example, BBC as 'bee-bee-cee'. In this entry, acronyms and
initialisms are treated as distinct.

I.e., lexicologists disagree, so I think we can safely say that 'I'm
afraid you're not completely right' is an opinion, not a statement of
fact, when applied to the case of someone using an acronym tag for WAI.

> After that long message, I owe a tip:

I'm not so sure. This is, after all, a discussion of the proper use of
the <acronym> tag. Still, seeing as I've already accidentally sent a tip
to an offlist mail on this thread (doh! yes, alright... move along...)
here it is:

<tip type="saving session data in php">
A quick'n'easy php solution to the problem of saving session data so a
user can return to a lengthy form process at a later date is the
serialize() function:

$sql_data = serialize($PHP_SESSION_VARS);

If you're using php 4 then this includes objects and pretty much
anything else except resource identifiers (e.g. database connections,
which you wouldn't want to serialize anyhow).


More information about the thelist mailing list