Wordnik: Tech Terms

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Today is the launch of Windows 7, and the release of Wornik's API. Erin McKean, co-founder of and former editor-in-chief for American Dictionaries at Oxford University Press, discusses some of the more confusing tech terms out there.

Listener word challenge! We know about "initialisms" (API) vs. "acronyms" (RAM) but there's a third category - for example AAA, which we call "triple A." Erin doesn't know what this is called, so it's up to you to come up with it, and give us other examples! Post your suggestions below!


Erin McKean

Comments [18]

D Gertler from Teaneck

Missed the original broadcast. I like "multipliterals" or "acrotuples."

Oct. 23 2009 01:46 PM
Barry Leiba from Cortlandt Manor, NY

#11, Harris from Harlem:
In your second list, all but "SPAM" are called "acronyms". So are "radar" (RAdio Detection And Ranging) and "loran" (LOng RAnge Navigation).

An acronym is a word made from the initial letters OR GROUPS OF LETTERS of other words.

I'd call "SPAM" a portmanteau word, like "alcoholic" and "blogiversary".

Oct. 23 2009 01:14 PM
Allen Wolovsky from Bklyn

Sorry I missed the original segment. I have a write-in vote: "Repetation." Easy to pronounce, easy to remember, will handle repeated letters as well as numbers.


Oct. 23 2009 12:03 PM
Barry Leiba from Cortlandt Manor, NY

There are two other categories:

1. A replicated letter is replaced by a number that represents the count of the replications:
the World Wide Web Consortium == W3C.

2. A long string of letters in the middle of a word is replaced by the count of the letters: internationalization == i18n; globalization == g11n.

I have no names for these, but they differ from "AAA", which is still *written* as "AAA", even though we say "triple-A".

Oct. 22 2009 03:16 PM
Karen from Port Chester, NY

How about calling them symboliphones?

Oct. 22 2009 02:33 PM
Mike O from Staten Island

There must also be a category that covers organizations running away from what their initials used to stand for, namely AARP. Today, AARP stands for absolutely nothing at all. Check their website.

Oct. 22 2009 01:57 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Whatever name you give it, I'd say examples like NAACP or IEEE are hybrids, since only some of the letters doubled or triple. I've also heard NAACP & NCAA pronouced as pure initialisms.

Oct. 22 2009 12:40 PM
Harris from Harlem

I suggest we call it:

Numernyms or Numericalnyms since numbers are used to discribe the word.

Other examples:

- NAACP (N double-A CP)
- NCAA (N C double-A)
- AAMCO (Double-A M C O)

By the way, what do we call the new word that is made from using more than just the first letter of each word but is still pronounced as a word? For Example:

- NABISCO (National Biscuit Company)
- NECCO (New England Confectionary Company)
- SPAM (Spiced Ham)
- SYSCO (Systems and Services Company)
- SUNOCO (Sun Oil Company)

Oct. 22 2009 12:22 PM
Ira from New Jersey

Borrowing from barely remembered high school math and poetry, "Triple AAA" is a "terminating, repeating, alliterative acronym." But this is a truly ugly phrase.

Since a "number" of repeating letters is used, how about "number" + "acronym" = "numnym?"

Or, for sameness, "monotonous" + "acronym" = "mononym?"

If we could just teach computer science's regular expression pattern mini-language (understandable by people who use APIs) to the general population, then we would not even need to give a name to something like "Triple AAA", we could just state the generic pattern. But I'm sure something like this impossible, like getting David Byrne to wear his bicycle helmet 100% of the time!

Oct. 22 2009 12:17 PM
Robert DTG from New Jersey

Suggestion for the new category: collapsism

Example in the same category as AAA: IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)

Examples of another new category?: ISO9000. Seems to blend an acroynm with simthing more literal.

Oct. 22 2009 12:11 PM
David Anderson from Riverdale

Triple A us an initialism, that is, unless NAACP isn't.

Oct. 22 2009 12:10 PM

"Triple A" = an Acroname

Oct. 22 2009 12:07 PM
michael from brooklyn

another example I can think of is the Long Island Railroad. Lots of people call it the "L. I. Double R."

Oct. 22 2009 12:04 PM
Mark from Dobbs Ferry

"Triple A" for AAA : Descriptograph

Oct. 22 2009 12:04 PM
Ellen Novack from Tribeca

Call something like "Triple A" a 'descriptik", because it describes what you're looking at when you see "AAA".

Oct. 22 2009 12:04 PM
Troy from Brooklyn, NY

I like 'numerism,' since it refers to the numbers of initials. Eh? Eh?

Oct. 22 2009 12:03 PM
Daniel from Munich

Mnemocronyms --- because it's easier to remember or say "triple A" than AAA.

Another example:
Institut National de Physique Nucléaire et de Physique des Particules, a french physics institute. It's abbreviated INPNPP, but called "I N two P three."

Oct. 22 2009 11:58 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

There also needs to be a word for initialisms that are longer to say than the phrase they are a shortened version of. Example: WWW, which is 9 syllables, short for World Wide Web, which is only 3.

Oct. 22 2009 11:49 AM

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