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Know your Numeronyms in Tech

Posted in Tech Industry, Non-technical

One thing you have to get used to as a developer is confusing names for everything. So many concepts, tools and technologies in development are already inherently difficult to understand - but when they get buried under a mountain of acronyms and metaphorical names, it can be even easier to end up baffled.

Even Elon Musk has been known to berate his employees for their overuse of acronyms.

However, as developers we are part of a community. We can influence that community, but never completely control it. So while we can do our best to make our own contributions transparent and easily understandable, we will always need to memorize weird names and acronyms.

One related practice that often gets newbies tripped up is numeronyms. And by “newbies” I mean “me, for a long time.” I’ll do my best to keep my grumpiness about numeronyms at bay in this post, and give a mostly neutral introduction to what they are, the forms they take, and where you can expect to run into them as a dev.

What is a numeronym?

Generally speaking, “numeronym” refers to the practice of using a number or numbers to abbreviate a word. This can be done in several different ways - for example, you can just use the sound of the word to complete a word - like “K9 Unit” or “Lol thats gr8.” In tech, numeronyms are implemented somewhat differently, mostly in the following two ways: letter substitution and acronym compression.

Letter Substitution Numeronyms

Letter subsitution numeronyms, more commonly known as L5S10N8s, are when you remove a bunch of letters from a word, and just replace those letters with a number corresponding to the number of letters you removed. If you’re a junior rails dev who’s confused about why the i18n gem has the name it does, i18n is short for “Internationalization.” Since “internationalization” is a bit of a pain to type, the eighteen letters in the middle of the word were simply compressed into the number “18.” Hence, i18n. Similarly, localization is often abbreviated as “l10n.”

Another well-known tech numeronym of the letter substitution style is “a11y.” Coming up as a junior, I always knew that this name had something to do with accessibility, but I didn’t know what. I honestly never even noticed that the “L”s were in fact “1”s - I thought it was an actual person’s name. In my defense, the fontfaces made them look the same. I just assumed that the name “Ally” was an homage to some girl with special needs - maybe someone who ended up dying because of an inaccessible website or something, I dunno. To those poor juniors out there with the same confusion that I had then, “a11Y” is simply short for “accessibility.” You’ll see a11y sprinkled around the net, referenced in various libraries, and over at the a11y project, which is a very important and much-needed effort. I just wish they would also make their site named more accessible for people who don’t know about frigging numeronyms.

Acronym Compression Numeronyms

Acronym compression numeronyms are basically just acronyms where, if you notice any repeating letters, you replace that group of letters with a new group consisting of 1) the letter that repeats, and 2) a number representing the total number of times the letter appears. So “CSS” would be “C2S,” “IEEE” would be “IE3,” etc. These show up in a couple of different places. The Worldwide Web Consortium, for example, calls itself W3C. Where you see them a lot, though, is in the names of AWS services. Its Simple Storage Service is S3. Its Elastic Compute Cloud is EC2. EC2 has the same number of letters and syllables as ECC. Which leads me to conclude, at this point, that some people simply find joy in using numeronyms wherever and whenever they can. And you know what, at the end of the day… who am I really to deny someone that simple pleasure?

You know what, long live numeronyms.

David Kennell is a web developer, specializing in Ruby on Rails, Javascript, and React. His most recent tech-related interests are DNS and database normalization. In his free time he enjoys not making up a list of hobbies for his blog bio. :D

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