[whatwg] whatwg Digest, Vol 33, Issue 90 (Krzysztof ?elechowski)

Sam Kuper sam.kuper at uclmail.net
Wed Dec 12 18:39:22 PST 2007

On 13/12/2007, Jim Jewett <jimjjewett at gmail.com> wrote:
> > ... the set of English acronyms and the set of English
> > initialisms are disjoint subsets of the set of English
> > abbreviations.
> I don't believe they are disjoint, though I suppose you could declare
> (by fiat, perhaps falsely) that any particular word fits in only one
> category for any individual speaker.
> -jJ

Dear Jim,

A little further research suggests that the OED is not consistent on
this matter.

The definitions of 'acronym' and 'initialism' seem quite clearly to
indicate disjoint sets, essentially because if there were overlap
between the two sets, it would contain only terms for which
pronunciation has not been settled and cannot be settled simply by
examining the structure of the term for sufficient vowels, etc.* Such
terms, it could reasonably be argued, are not in the English language
(yet) and therefore don't count, and so the sets are indeed disjoint.
So, were it the case that 'earl' and 'yew are el' are both valid ways
of pronouncing the abbreviation 'URL', then this would be such a term.
(However, it is not: the settled pronunciation of URL is the latter of
the two above.)

However, if the above is correct, then 'JPEG' ought to be classed as
an initialism by the OED, since it cannot be pronounced as a word
(requiring, as it does, the insertion of a vowel sound after the 'J').
Yet, the OED actually classes JPEG as an acronym.

What, then, is this second ontology of initalisms/acronyms, since it
is clearly different from the first? I suspect it either desregards
(perhaps out of ignorance) the existence of initialisms as a distinct
set of abbreviations, or else regards them as a subset of acronyms.

Which ontology to choose? Take your pick. I prefer the former, as I
consider it to be better informed and also more useful. Of course, you
may differ...

Warmest regards,


More information about the whatwg mailing list