Pronouncing initialisms/acronyms (was: e-mail)

Subject: Pronouncing initialisms/acronyms (was: e-mail)
From: ckberg -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM
Date: Sun, 14 Jan 1996 18:44:42 -0800

[I don't have an attribution for the three >> lines; sorry]

Stuart Reynolds <reynolds -at- ic -dot- net> wrote:

>>I pronounce URL as you-are-ell, because that seems the natural way to
>>me. If I'd heard it spoken before I saw it in print I might pronounce
>>it differently.

>Uhhhh.. it *is* You-Are-Ell... Uniform Resource Locator, or do people
>use it, without knowing what the hell it stands for?
> If you are in doubt, check with the originator
>form CERN.. Tim Berners-Lee.. who created this addressing scheme, for
>the World Wide Web, which he had conceived. Actually, I don't know if
>he is still at CERN or not, but they could tell you.

This brings up an interesting point: how do we (how does one?)
decide on pronunciation of neologisms, particularly those used by
folks who communicate through an unspoken medium such as the Net?
Does the person who coined a word/an initialism get to determine
its pronunciation? What if users of said term disagree with the

The question calls to mind a long thread I saw on the usenet group
rec.arts.ascii about the pronunciation of GIF (hard G as in gift,
or soft, as in "Choosy perverts choose GIFs!"?). Such arguments
as originator's preference, general usage, and the sequence G-I in other
English-language words (e.g., "giraffe") were put forth. I don't
recall that any conclusion was reached.

To bring this back to technical writing: if you are trying to
decide on "a or an before an initialism" (a fascinating
thread occurring on copyediting-l right now) and want to
apply the rule "initial consonant sound gets a; initial vowel
sound gets an" -- how do you decide on the initial sound of a
new Net initialism that hasn't made its way into dictionaries
yet? Is it "a you-are-ell" or "an earl"? And why (or why not)?

To anyone out there who would use "an you-are-ell" -- how
about FAQ: is it "an eff-ay-cue" or "a fack"?

By golly, I probably need to post this to copyediting-l, too.

Cathy Krusberg
Internet: ckberg -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com

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