Of sites and mikes

Sometimes you win one, sometimes you lose one, and sometimes it depends on the ref

Yesterday, on Daring Fireball John Gruber posted, “The AP Stylebook changes ‘Web site’ to ‘website.’” About time, I thought.

Gruber says he switched the usage on his blog last October. I’m not sure when I started using website, but I know it’s been several years. Website has been gaining in popular usage, at least in how often I see it, for even longer. I like website because I’m lazy—no high-falutin linguistic justification. I don’t have to worry about hitting the shift key for the cap, or getting that space in the middle. Just type; website is easier.

Then I followed Gruber’s link to the AP tweet and found this in the responses: “Drawing cheers from the #aces2010 audience: mic as short form of microphone, website instead of Web site.” Noooo! Not mic!

I’ve been fighting this little battle for years. The short form of microphone is mike. It’s been well established for decades. My 25-year-old American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, lists mike as “n. Informal. A microphone.” It has no listing at all for mic.

According to Dictionary.com, mike dates from 1927 in use in radio and movie recording, and mic doesn’t show up until 1961. Mike has been around in several other uses even longer, but we’re only talking about microphones here. I would have bet that I had never seen mic before the Internet, but I found evidence to the contrary had been sitting in my own living room since 1979. Our very old stereo amplifier has a “Mic” jack on the front. Okay, it was right under my nose. I stand corrected. On that point only.

I still prefer mike as a short form, although I will accept mic as an abbreviation, especially where space is at a premium, such as the jack label on my amp. This is a subtle distinction, but one I think is worth maintaining.

Mike, like other short forms, is standing in for a longer (or maybe just harder to spell) word or phrase. We have klicks for kilometers, we have nite for night, we have typo for typographical error. Those are short or alternative forms.

Abbreviations, on the other hand, are usually formed by just lopping off the end of the word. Professor becomes prof, abbreviation becomes abbrev., and microphone becomes mic.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s an open mike night, a cordless mike, you plug the mike into the jack. There’s another advantage to the longer-accepted form: it works as a verb. “Get that singer miked.” “When we were miking the actors…” But try the same thing with mic and you have unfortunate hints of practical jokes involving small rodents. “We were micing the actors.” “The singer got miced.” Adding a K doesn’t help. Mic’d? Oh, please.

AP may have okayed using mic, but there’s still a lot of contrary opinion, even though it seems to be the minority now. We’re endlessly creative and flexible in English, and trying to keep the language from changing is a losing battle. No point in fighting it.

Unless your job is editor. Then you’re getting paid to uphold “Standard English.” You’re the ref, the one who has to make the call between lite and light, between its and it’s, between mike and mic. In book editing, I lean toward academic standards of usage, which do tend to be a bit more conservative. I’ll (usually) follow the dictates of my old paper dictionary, Dictionary.com and especially of the Gregg Reference Manual, my absolutely most trusted guide.

On the Internet, I lean more to the journalistic style, and then I’ll defer to the AP Stylebook. Unless I disagree. After all, they may be the reference, but I’m the ref.

3 thoughts on “Of sites and mikes

  1. I read Doug Fisher’s comments on the style changes announced by AP. Fascinating stuff. I happen to prefer “mic” instead of “mike,” but it’s just a personal preference. Your clearly stated, very strong argument for “mike” is persuasive, but I’m just not there yet.

    Your blog is very interesting; hope you keep writing more entries. I like reading about writing and I’m sure many others like your topics as well.

  2. Juneau, I hadn’t seen Doug Fisher’s blog before. It is fascinating. Thanks for pointing me in his direction.

    And thank you for your compliments. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog.

  3. Now you got me so confused. I’ll never use mike or mic again. A microphone from now on will be a talking stick.

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