Anne van Kesteren


It is now no longer in use for comments. The comment validator will currently return something in the lines of invalid element: ACRONYM, which is good since there was never a real distinction between ABBR and ACRONYM. This has obviously to do with the following: markup is all about personal opinions. I will also no longer use it in current posts and I may update some older posts to reflect my current point of view.

This means I agree with comment 12 from IE supporting ABBR? made by Simon Jessey:

Since all acronyms are subsets of abbreviations, it makes more sense to leave out acronyms.

Another point made in that thread was that they were both underspecified and I'm still confused which one to choose in some cases so I will from now on choose the more general one until the W3C defines a set of guidelines that are clear enough to follow. And the more general one is ABBR, since ACRONYM is only a subset of that type of words.

Note that this is not something you should look up in your dictionary, since the W3C can mean I different thing than you think, just look at the em unit in CSS 2.x.

If you have nothing to do tonight, you might also be interested in: Abbreviations, not for end users.


  1. I'm not sure why you decided to get rid of <acronym> completely. It is still a valid element. Perhaps you are gearing up for doing everything in XHTML 2.0, which doesn't have <acronym> as far as I can remember?

    Posted by Simon Jessey at

  2. Acronyms are not a subset of abbreviations. Additionally, abbreviations are not to be confused with initialisms. If anything, you should use the acronym element for initialisms and not the abbreviation element. Though still incorrect, it isn't as incorrect.

    Acronym examples: NASA, NATO and WYSIWYG.

    Abbreviation examples: Mr, Ltd and PhD.

    Initialism examples: BBC, W3C and XHTML.

    A good book on English grammar should make the meaning of these three terms clear. (When I say English I don't mean US-English. English as in England.)

    Of course, you could refer to a small cat as a large Audi. In your own space you make the rules. Just don't be surprised if you are beaten and ridiculed by a group of angry grammarians. ;)

    Posted by Tommy H. at

  3. That something is an abbreviation simply means that you've shortened a word or sentence. An initialism means you've taken the first letter of each word and put together. An abbreviation means a shortening of a word or sentence that in itself is a pronouncable word. Then we have edge cases, like PNG, which is an initialism, and abbreviation, and is pronouncable but not as it's spelled, but as "ping". Another example, JPEG, is often read out "jaypeg" or "jeepeg". What are these? Well, they are initialisms, they are perhaps acronyms, but they are definitely abbreviations.

    Posted by liorean at

  4. They don't speak english in the US. They speak Yankee. ;-)

    Posted by Asbjørn Ulsberg at

  5. Yea, and don't forget SQL which is often pronounced «Sequel», and just as often «SQL». This is another one of those hybrid words.

    Since it's so difficult to express what these words really are, I think what we need is a much more generic tag element called SHORT. It just says that the containing word is short for something. Not how it is shortened -- because frankly, that doesn't matter -- but what is shortened. The whole abbr vs acronym is imho rediculous, as we don't need either. SHORT would suffice quite good enough.

    Posted by Asbjørn Ulsberg at

  6. I wonder why I manage to break the XML on the page, when parsing and preview of the comment goes fine. It's only after posting the comment everything breaks, and I have no idea what or why. Hm...

    Posted by Asbjorn Ulsberg at

  7. PNG is not an initialism, because it is incorrect to say "pee-en-jee". It is not an abbreviation, because we don't say "Portable Network Graphic" when we read "PNG" (see my examples of abbreviations above). It is pronounced "ping" and is therefore an acronym. What term a word falls under depends entirely on its creators. Which is why SQL is an initialism in the case of MySQL and an acronym in the case of other vendors. They are separate implementations, so it is incorrect to mix their pronunciation.

    Regardless of people's views on whether something is an abbreviation, acronym or initialism, if the W3C feels that pronunciation is style then surely the abbreviation element should be deprecated too. Lumping three, rightly separate, grammatical terms under one causes confusion, hence the controversy.

    A better solution would be to wrap the words with meaningless span elements with an appropriate class. Of course, this would be like asking Web standards advocates blinded by zeal to use tables for tabular data. Heresy! :)

    Posted by Tommy H. at

  8. I fully support Tommy H. Abbreviation and acronym are definitely not the same thing.

    Posted by Frenzie at

  9. I fully support Tommy H., but I still say "pee-en-gee." ;-)

    Also -- since we're discussing comment markup and these comments have been closed -- I'm wondering why you force commenters to use XHTML (which relatively few web users actually know or care to know) when WP can handle things like paragraph tags and line breaks for them automatically? I'm all for valid markup, but not at the expense of usability.

    I realize that your target audience isn't exactly the typical end user, but if one happens by here and has their curiosity piqued enough to want to learn and ask questions, you've in essence actively discouraged them from participating in the conversation. With the effort you've taken to write a validator for comment markup, you could've hooked into the WP XHTML generator, read its output, and given helpful feedback such as "you need to close your <code> tags."

    Just my two cents. After all, part of the point of valid markup is usability.

    Posted by Adam M. at

  10. I agree with the W3C that how to pronounce a word, whether it is initialized, abbreviated or an acronym, is style. This is solved by Aural CSS. But it's still nice to know the fact that the word is shortened, but how it is shortened doesn't really matter.

    Therefore, I think a general semanticless element won't do. It's nice to know that a word written in uppercase is short for something, and the only way to assert that it is shortened is to wrap it in an alement that says it is. But differentiating between abbreviations, initials and acronyms is imho pointless. A simple SHORT element would do just fine.

    Posted by Asbjørn Ulsberg at

  11. Unfortunately, Tommy H is ill-informed in his definition of abbreviations and acronyms, although his examples are quite correct. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary*, both intialisms and acroynms are subsets of abbreviations, as I have already indicated. An abbreviation is any type of shortened form of a word or phrase. I once suggested that XHTML 2.0 should give <abbr> an optional attribute that would accept acronym, initialism, and perhaps other to deal with oddities like recursive acronyms, but it never caught on.

    * From volume 1 of the 20-volume edition of the dictionary - the best source that I have access to.

    Posted by Simon Jessey at

  12. But differentiating between abbreviations, initials and acronyms is imho pointless. A simple SHORT element would do just fine.

    Why differentiate between different headers? Just HEADER should be enough. Let's get rid of the H1 to H6 nonsense.

    An abbreviation is any type of shortened form of a word or phrase.

    True, I was wrong.

    P.S. See Anne, that thing in the post above this is a footer.

    Posted by Frenzie at

  13. As defined by R. L. Trask, an expert in English grammar:


    A brief way of writing a word or phrase that could also be written out in full... An abbreviation does not normally have a distinct pronunciation of its own: we pronounce Dr as ‘Doctor’ and e.g. as ‘for example’. But there are exceptions: the abbreviation p. for pence is sometimes pronounced ‘pee’. However, saying ‘ee-jee’ for e.g. or ‘eye-ee’ for i.e. is eccentric. Some people extend the term ‘abbreviation’ to include acronyms and initialisms, but this is neither usual nor recommended.


    In the simplest case, a word constructed by combining the initial letters of the principle words in a phrase to produce something which can be pronounced as a word and which has the same meaning as the original phrase... Some people extend the term acronym to an initialism, which is formed in the same way but cannot be pronounced as a word, such as BBC.


    A word constructed by taking the initial letters of the important words in a phrase, producing something which cannot be pronounced as a word, but must be spelled out letter by letter... Note that some people do not distinguish initialisms from acronyms, using acronym for both.

    (Source — ISBN: 0140514643)

    According to that definition, you are ill-informed Simon.

    Posted by Tommy H. at