Say It Short

Posted Friday, October 28th, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Remember when the movie 2010: Odyssey Two came out? There was a simple, easy way to say it: We all called it “Twenty-Ten”. And for a few decades, folks like Terence McKenna have been warning about what might happen in the year 2012, and we all thought of it as “twenty-twelve”. These things are short, quick, and easy to say.

And then we hit the Aughts, and for nine long years, we had to start all our year-names with “two thousand…”. By 2006, we were pretty well habituated to it, and I started hearing people project that format onto later years: “two thousand fifty-five” and whatnot.

But starting at the beginning of last year, none of this was necessary any more. We can drop the laborious excess of “two thousand” in favor of just “twenty”. Really, nobody will have any trouble understanding you when you say this is “twenty-eleven”.

(I know, this is not exactly a pressing issue. But it bugs me. Like many geeks, seeing excess effort expended is a pet peeve, even when I’m not the one expending it.)

While we’re at it, there are a couple of TLAs in the tech world that really can and should be said as acronyms, without having to be spelled out every time.

FAQ is “fack”. It rhymes with Iraq. If someone asks you lots of them in a rapid-fire manner, it’s a FAQ attack. If you’re into goth fashion, you may like the Dye It Black FAQ — doesn’t work so well if you spell out the last word, does it?

And why does anyone pronounce APIs as “ay pee eyes” when they could just say “appies”? Honestly, I always thought it was pronounced “appies”, until a co-worker got confused by it. I was surprised to hear that most techies actually take the excess time to spell out “ay pee eye” — nobody ever bothers to spell out “en ay ess ay” or “ay jay ay ecks”, why should the just-as-pronounceable API be any different?


  1. Lun Esex
    Posted Friday, October 28th, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I have never, in my life of working in and with tech in Silicon Valley and San Francisco since the early ’80’s (earlier if you count summer school programming classes during elementary school) heard “API” pronounced “appie.”

    I’ve never heard a coworker say it, I’ve never heard a teacher say it, and I’ve never heard my dad, a former engineer at Lockheed, say it.

    Did you pick up saying “appie” from a bunch of other people you were working with, or is it just a logical pronunciation for you?

  2. Posted Friday, October 28th, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    No, I’ve never heard anyone else say it that way, either. But they should. It’s not just a logical pronunciation “for me”; it’s a logical pronunciation, period.

    There’s no reason in the world to pronounce NASA, AJAX, NATO, LAMP, and COBOL as words but spell out API as three letters.

  3. Lun Esex
    Posted Saturday, October 29th, 2011 at 12:32 am | Permalink


    One may speculate… Is it more common for an acronym pronounced as a word to start with a consonant? Out of your examples only “AJAX” starts with a vowel. (I’m on my phone or I’d take a look.)

    Also, those examples are fairly unambiguous when it comes to spelling them out after hearing them. Hearing “appie” it’s easy to wonder if it has two “P”s, and/or ends in an “I,” a “Y,” an “IE,” etc. (I am personally intimate with this, since a natural diminutive of my first name ends the same way, and I make a point of NOT codifying a preferred spelling.)

  4. Lun Esex
    Posted Saturday, October 29th, 2011 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    All right, checking we have the following acronyms starting with a vowel that are consistently pronounced like a word:


    A couple more that I expect some people might pronounce like a word, but others may not:

    ARP, ASP

  5. Lun Esex
    Posted Saturday, October 29th, 2011 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    One thing that jumps right out at me about the three letter acronyms at the link in my previous comment that are pronounced like words is that except for ISO they’re all pronounced as a single syllable, as opposed to two in “appie.” In fact more of the acronyms longer than three letters that are pronounced like words are pronounced as a single syllable than as two syllables, too.

  6. Lun Esex
    Posted Saturday, October 29th, 2011 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    I’d guess that it’s simply that pronouncing a three letter acronym as a two syllable word comes out as ungainly.

    Plus we’re already really used to pronouncing the “I” at the ends of lots of acronyms (especially when it stands for “Interface”). And one way or another, it looks like anything ending in “I” is going to come out as two syllables if/when pronounced as a word.

    (Grr. I kept trying to post the three comments above as a single post and WordPress kept telling me my content looks “a bit spammy.” I’ve had to break it into three and pull out the list of acronyms pronounced like words that I’d put in to see if that gets around it.)

  7. Posted Saturday, October 29th, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    First off: I’m not sure why WordPress thought a long comment looked “spammy”, and I’m not sure how to stop that. I am sorry.

    Second: You’ve already pointed out ANSI and ASCII as acronyms that we pronounce as words (as opposed to abbreviations that we spell out). I can add SCSI to that, if you want one that ends in “Interface”. What others are you thinking of that we spell out that would otherwise be pronounceable as single words? On the list you linked to, I see DVI and HDMI, but both of those are non-pronounceable without spelling them out.

    I also see MIDI and GUI, which counter your argument.

    There’s also the .AVI file extension. I always pronounced it as “avvy”. I forget whether I’ve ever heard others do so, or had to pronounce it to other people (and what their reaction was if I did). It’s just not used often enough.

  8. Lun Esex
    Posted Sunday, November 13th, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    There are always exceptions. My previous comments are in terms of generalities, and why API being pronounced as “appy” might fail at them. In that case, in several ways the pronunciation “appy” for API has more than one hurdle, and people don’t seem inclined to make an exception for it.

    And, personally, I might say either “gooey” OR “gee-you-eye” for GUI, depending on the situation, and I ALWAYS spell out AVI when speaking it (which I do have occasion to do). I might even say something like “a dot ayy-vee-eye file,” to be especially clear. 🙂

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