Thursday, May 20, 2010

Alphabet Soup

Acronyms and initialisms are useful linguistic devices that provide a means of referring to lengthy phrases without getting your tongue all tripped up.  You’ll agree (won’t you?) that it’s easier to say “NATO” than “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” or “laser” instead of “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.”   

An acronym generally means an actual word (“radar”) that is formed from the initials or first few letters of a phrase (“radio detection and ranging”), while an initialism is a set of letters pronounced individually to refer to the longer phrase (“CIA” instead of “Central Intelligence Agency.”)

Every time we use a computer we are beset by acronyms and initialisms, whose meanings are probably completely unknown to us.  We all use PDF files on occasion or see photographs in JPEG format.  We enter a URL into the little box on our browser, and the letters HTTP usually pop up before the actual address. What’s it all about, Alphie?     

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou (BOBB) offers this poetic mnemonic to help you remember some of the more common computer initials:

            To navigate through your computer
            You need some lessons from a tutor:
            The World Wide Web will never trouble you--
            It’s simply WWW.
            An ISP is what the insider
            Calls an Internet Service Provider.
            URL, which you’ll meet later,
            Is Universal Resource Locator.
             HTTP is not mere folderol,
            It’s HyperText Transfer Protocol.
             PDF? A Document Format
            That’s Portable, like a lightweight doormat.
            JPEG’s in this alphabetic soup--
            Joint Photographic Experts Group.
            Okay, class, learn those real well.
            Next: FTP and  DSL.


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