Monday, June 07, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to Me

Last night I began reading The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English, and came across this:

Think of all the acronyms that speak volumes to insiders and say nothing to everyone else.
TTC for instance. If you're a sports fan, you probably associate those initials with The Tennis Channel. Unless you're a sports fan living in Toronto, in which case you'd first call to mind the Toronto Transit Commission....In the American South, the letters also involve transportation: Trans-Texas Corridor. But in Paris, TTC is a hip-hop band; in Singapore...
Well, you get the idea. The thing is, though, that in every enlightened community of word-snob minds, TTC is not an example of an acronym--it's an initialism. Wikipedia maintains that there is no universal agreement on what constitutes an acronym, at the same time acknowledging that "most dictionaries define acronym to mean  'a word' in its original sense, while some include a secondary indication of usage, attributing to acronym the same meaning as that of initialism."

There is a reason secondary meanings are secondary.

All the cool kids know that acronyms are a series of initial letters that combine to form a word, and are spoken as such: NATO, NASA, OPEC,  NASCAR, etc. Initialisms, meanwhile, are spoken as, well, initials: FBI, IRS, BTO, OMFG, etc. Given these guidelines, TTC does not earn admittance to the acronym camp.

Bonus quibble: Interestingly, there is no current consensus on what to label such high-tech hybrid constructions as jpeg or CD-ROM. Initialnyms, perhaps?