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Re: Is "XML" an abbreviation or an acronym?

  • From: Chuck Bearden <cbearden@r...>
  • To: Rick Jelliffe <rjelliffe@a...>
  • Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2008 11:38:08 -0500

Re:  Is "XML" an abbreviation or an acronym?
Rick Jelliffe wrote:
> I think the problem is that acronym is not about reading silently but 
> reading aloud.
> So if you said
>  EksEmEl
> i.e. spelling out each letter then you are using an abbreviation.
> But if you said
>   Eksml
> i.e. pronouncing it as a word then you are using it more as an acrostic. 
> However, a really unsuccessful one in English at least, because the ksml 
> combination is not idiomatic in English and certainly not euphonious: we 
> don't see towns like Axmill or Pigsmill AFAIK.
> Similarly, CEO if pronounced by spelling out each letter see-ee-oh is an 
> abbreviation, but if you attempt to read it as a word,  see-oh, it is an 
> acronym too. (I don't know that anyone does that.)
> So I think it is futile to discern acronymicity from merely looking at 
> the letters: it is how they get read that is the determining factor. So 
> RADAR and LASER are definitely acronyms because we conventionally read 
> them aloud as words perfectly easily.
> So my vote is that XML is not an acronym, and that this can be 
> empirically tested by observing whether guinea pigs read out each letter 
> or try to make a continuous sound with it.

I think this is right.  I used to be a librarian, and one of my favorite 
reference sources is Gale's _Acronyms, Initialisms & Abbreviations 
Dictionary_, which uses 'acronym' in pretty much the same way as Rick. 
Entities like 'XML' and 'XSLT' are described there as *initialisms* 
(perhaps of a degenerate class, since the 'X' is not an initial letter 
of one of the abbreviated words), since they comprise the initial 
letters of the words of in the name they denote.  'SOAP', when 
pronounced like the substance we use when bathing, is an acronym in the 
classical sense, since one is pronouncing not the individual letters but 
a word those letters constitute.  'OPEC' is thus also an acronym.  'SQL' 
can be either, since some pronounce it 'EssCueEl' and others 'sequel'. 
(I always use the former myself.)

Chuck Bearden (cbearden@r... ; 713.348.3661)
XML Engineer, Connexions

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