IN THE NETPLEX

P> Dear Doc:
Thanks for reprinting my e-mail in the Jan. 25 edition of WT. It evidences a level of intellectual integrity that is rare near the Beltway.
With that bit of pandering out of the way, I would like to call your attention to some evidence that all of your editors have not been relegated to lower levels of l'inferno.

In the Jan. 11 issue, you gave us eight terms and said that three "... strictly speaking, are acronyms." W-e-l-l, strictly speaking, none are acronyms; unless SSL (secure sockets sayer) and SHTTP (secure hypertext transport protocol) are sounded out in some way.

Please fetch your editors (one or more) and let them know that an acronym is a word formed from the initial letters or group of letters of a phrase. Thus LORAN (say: lor-ann) stands for long range navigation; whereas EDI (say E-D-I) is an abbreviation. I believe that this is also true of SSL and SHTTP as I have never heard anyone say "sll" except under circumstances that do not bear repeating here (this is a family zine -- right?).

Best Regards,

Dan Reiss @ Automated

Terminal Development

Mr. Reiss raises an issue that has long divided acronymologists: What is an acronym?

Here is the Doctor's position: The 10th edition of Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines an acronym as, "a word (as radar or snafu) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term."

The same dictionary defines an abbreviation as, "a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole (amt is an abbreviation for amount)."

Let's take the example "EDI." It is clearly an abbreviation because it is a "shortened phrase used in place of the whole," which in this case is Electronic Data Interchange. But it is just as clearly an acronym because it is a "word formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term."

True, it is pronounced as a series of three letters -- E-D-I -- rather than as a continuous word "eedeye." But grammatically, EDI functions as a word in a sentence. We can use it as an adjective: "The EDI market is growing at a 30 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR)." We can make it a noun. "EDI is the best thing since CD-ROM."

So there is absolutely nothing in the definitions "acronym" and "abbreviation" preventing EDI from being both an acronym and an abbreviation.

Thus, Mr. Reiss' flawed complaint is based on two faulty assumptions. The first is that an abbreviation cannot be an acronym and vice versa.

The second is that an acronym must be a word that can be "sounded out in some way." Well, EDI, SSL and SHTTP can all be sounded out, and they can function as words. Do we say "brabble" isn't a word simply because we don't like the way it rolls off the tongue?

What Mr. Reiss unjustly seems to be arguing is that such acronyms can't be sounded out mellifluously. (Mellifluous is a portmanteau -- a word derived from two or more distinct words. It is formed from the Latin words mel, for honey, and fleure, for the verb to flow. There is an entire branch of acronymology dealing with portmanteaus.)

The Doctor would argue that EDI is an acronym, abbreviation and portmanteau.

Dr. Acronym welcomes your acronymial questions and quibbles. Send e-mail to technews@technews.com with "Dear Dr. Acronym" in the subject line.


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