October 22, 2003

IAEA yippy yippy yie

Seldom can there have been a phonetically more unfortunate set of initials than the one that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is stuck with. The agency has been much in the news recently because of Iran's suspicious experiments in transuranic chemistry, forcing frequent efforts by newsreaders and radio hosts, reporters, and interviewees to to read aloud the abbreviation. But at normal conversational speed its ghastly sequence of four diphthongized long vowels (in the nicely symmetrical but un-IPA Trager-Smith transcription, /ay ey iy ey/) sounds something like ah-ee-yay-ee-yee-yay-ee. Aaieeeee!!

If only they had thought ahead. They could easily have called the agency the Transnational Atomic Power Authorizing Service, and then we would have had an acronym for them, TAPAS. People should think about this sort of thing before they create organization names. This is the sort of issue that we are giving a lot of thought to here at the recently-formed Society for Terminological Uniformity, Practicality, and Informational Durability.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at October 22, 2003 03:21 PM