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Acronyms (was RE: [xml-dev] XML Buzzwords. RFC)

Boy, am I ever sorry I started this...

> -----Original Message-----
> From: John Cowan [mailto:jcowan@reutershealth.com]
> Sent: Wednesday, November 28, 2001 2:15 PM
> To: Stuart Celarier
> Cc: xml-dev
> Subject: Re: [xml-dev] XML Buzzwords. RFC
> ...
> Must we?  Some say "sequel" and others say "ess-cue-ell", and I
> believe that the latest word on the subject is to say "ess-cue-ell"
> but deny that it stands for anything, particularly not
> "Structured Query Language".

[John] So by Stuart's definition,

   > ... An acronym is an abbreviation that is pronounced like a word,
   > such as NATO (pronounced 'nay-toh') which is an abbreviation for the
   > Atlantic Treaty Organization. The UN is not the 'un', XML is not
   > 'ks-mil' ...

[John] SQL *is* an acronym if pronounced "sequel", but *not* if pronounced
"ess-cue-ell". Ambiguous, I can live with that.

> By your definitions, "Mr." is an acronym.

[John] No, it would only be an acronym if you pronounced it "mer". (And
"Mrs.", "mers". But wait a minute -- what about "Ms."??)

> Troll: What does "ISO" (as in the issuer of ISO standards) stand for?

[John] International Standards Organization? But then, I always though SQL
*did* stand for Structured Query Language.

> Tom Bradford said:
> Actually, an acronym is a word (nym) formed from the beginning (acro)
> letters of a set of words.  Being a word doesn't actually require that
> it be pronounceable phonetically.  IOU is a word that's not pronounced
> phonetically, but is an acronym.
> http://www.dictionary.com/cgi-bin/dict.pl?term=acronym
> After all, especially in English, there are no definitive phonetic rules
> for how any particular word should be pronounced.  XSLT and XML are
> definitely acronyms because they qualify as such, and they're also
> abbreviations.  They're even in the acronym finder:
> http://www.acronymfinder.com 
> You nit-pick, I know.  My wife got her masters in English and assures me
> that an acronym doesn't have to be a mnemonic device.

[John] Wait a minute. So XSLT and XML are "words"? And therefore acronyms?
What is the definition of "word" here? Does XSLT and XML appear in
Merriam-Webster's? Nope, I just checked. So what qualifies them as words?

To try to get an answer, I just looked up "word" in M-W (a nicely recursive
exercise, I thought). Here is what I got:

2 a (1) : a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and
communicates a meaning without being divisible into smaller units capable of
independent use (2) : the entire set of linguistic forms produced by
combining a single base with various inflectional elements without change in
the part of speech elements b (1) : a written or printed character or
combination of characters representing a spoken word <the number of words to
a line> -- sometimes used with the first letter of a real or pretended taboo
word prefixed as an often humorous euphemism <the first man to utter the f
word on British TV -- Time> <we were not afraid to use the d word and talk
about death -- Erma Bombeck> (2) : any segment of written or printed
discourse ordinarily appearing between spaces or between a space and a
punctuation mark c : a number of bytes processed as a unit and conveying a
quantum of information in communication and computer work

Now I'm not a linguist, but is M-W saying that pretty much any combination
of letters that means something to someone can be a word? Or, since the
letters of an acronym stand for other words, does this mean an acronym is
*not* a word since it is "divisible into smaller units capable of
independent use"? If an acronym is not a word, then M-W's own definition of
acronym is internally inconsistent.

If we assume that an acronym *is* a word, then maybe we can distinguish
between abbreviations and acronyms by saying that all acronyms are
abbreviations, but an abbreviation is only an acronym if it is formed by the
*beginning* letter or letters of each of the multiple words it stands for.
So "Mr." is not an acronym because (a) it includes a letter from the end of
the word, and (b) it is only the shortening of a single word, not two or

Well, as fascinating as this is, I've gotta get back to work...   ;-)

- John
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