WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

E-mail List Archives

RE: when acronyms mean nothing


From: Jukka Korpela
Date: Jun 28, 2002 12:49AM

Timothy J. Luoma:

> So how does one mark up an acronym that doesn't have any meaning?

There is quite some confusion around the <acronym> and <abbr> elements,
caused by different interpretations of the word "acronym" (and the word
"abbreviation"). According to several dictionaries, an acronym is a
pronounceable word that has originally been formed from initials of words,
such as "radar". But according to another interpretation, any initialism is
an acronym.

Besides, what should a user agent do with the information in the title
attribute? There are some indications of an opinion that it should be read,
i.e. the abbreviation "spelled out", in speech synthesis. I don't think that
would be useful, so I don't take the risk. If I want to have my abbrev
spelled out, I spell it out. I don't want a user agent expand my abbrevs
just because I've indicated them as abbrevs in my markup.

I don't think we can do much this confusion as authors. My opinion is based
on the fact that any support to <acronym> or <abbr> is primitive at best and
any future processing might be based on some currently unpredictable
interpretation of the semantics. Thus, when in doubt, I use neither. This
means in practice that I mostly use just <abbr> occasionally, when it would
do no serious harm to spell it out, e.g. when I use an abbreviation just
once in a document, expecting it to be known to readers but expecting them
to understand the expanded form too.

The expression you take as an example is something that originated as an
abbreviation but has lost the connection, becoming just a word-like
expression. It's not really an abbreviation any more. If it were a
pronounceable word, it would be an acronym, but markup for acronyms is
relatively pointless, accessibility-wise and otherwise too. It does not help
much to known what "radar" comes from; and if it's relevant to say that,
then let's say that in prose, not in markup.

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Phone: +358 9 4763 0397 Fax: +358 9 4763 0399

To subscribe, unsubscribe, or view list archives,
visit http://www.webaim.org/discussion/