Wednesday, 27 July 2005

It’s all Tim’s fault

The Public Institute for the Stringent Suppression of Unnecessary Polysyllablicity has been carrying out valuable work in its field since it was created as a sub-group of the Fabian Society soon after the latter’s foundation in 1884, though I sometimes feel that those who devised its title lacked both a sense of irony and any awareness of the desirability of avoiding unfortunate acronyms.

It is clear, however, that this venerable organisation is lagging behind the times: it has no website of its own or even an email address. Most shameful of all, it seems to be taking no action whatsoever to discourage the use of the most appalling example of the sort of thing it was founded to attack: all over the world people are using nine syllables for a very common expression where three ought to serve. The invaluable Wikipedia sums up the situation like this:
Most English-speaking people pronounce the 9-syllable letter sequence www used in some domain names for websites as "double U, double U, double U", but many shorter pronunciations can be heard: "triple double U", "double U, double U" (omitting one W), "dub, dub, dub", "hex u", etc. Some speakers, mostly those with southern accents, pronounce the sequence "dubya, dubya, dubya." Some languages do not have the letter w in their alphabet (for example, Italian), which leads some people to pronounce www as "vou, vou, vou." Perhaps a shorter pronunciation will become standard usage in the future. Several other languages (e.g. German, Czech, Dutch etc.) pronounce the letter W as a single syllable, so this problem doesn't occur….
In English pronunciation, saying the full words "World Wide Web" takes one-third as many syllables as saying the initialism "WWW". According to Berners-Lee, others mentioned this fact as a reason to choose a different name, but he persisted.

It’s particularly galling that German-speakers, not noted for syllabic parsimony, have no problem with it.
I don’t much like any of the shorter variations mentioned by Wikipedia, logical though some of them are. My own coinage, which I have found to be instantly grasped without misunderstanding by almost everyone, though it may confuse francophones and small children, is Wee Wee Wee, and I invite all my readers to join me in promoting this obviously sensible usage.


Michael said...

Two thoughts... 1. your "wee, wee, wee" recalls my wife's rather cavalier interpretation of a line in the Bruce Springsteen song, "Living on the Edge of the World", where he sings about the deleterious effects of shift work on his mind "in the wee, wee hours". As one slides into the second half of life, however, this actually comes to mean that time of the night when your body responds with the inevitable consequences of your having waited until just before bedtime to try to sustain the practice of drinking eight glasses of water daily; 2. a now-moved-on local TV sportscaster used to advise viewers to visit his referenced websites by going to "woo-woo-woo...". That, too, was always somewhat less than dignified to me, because I harbour a love of old Daffy Duck cartoons.

So "wee wee wee" works just fine, but not without its odd neural links. Let's see if it catches on.


outeast said...

Several other languages (e.g. German, Czech, Dutch etc.) pronounce the letter W as a single syllable, so this problem doesn't occur….

For Czech at least this is wrong. 'W' is 'dvojité vé' ('double v'), so strictly speaking Czechs say 'vvv' instead of 'www' when reciting web addresses (though this may be because they've just chosen to use the German convention, since 'w' is not used in Czech anyway...)

Tony said...

Yes, I daresay, Outeast, but why have you waited five years before telling me?