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How do you pronounce “mic?”
Sep 23, 2011
Readers of this column will never see the abbreviation “mic” used here.
This Johnny-come-lately to the lexicon of abbreviations makes no phonetic sense. It was, and is, a totally unnecessary addition.
The first printed reference to “mike” for “microphone” is found in 1923. By 1926, mike was common usage. Years passed before anyone used mic. Oxford records its first appearance as 1961.
In April of this year, the Associated Press Stylebook recommended to the American Copy Editors Society that mic rather than mike be used. In effect, AP is directing the editors to change the spelling mike to mic whenever any writer uses the former. Many editors object with good reason.
Mic violates all pronunciation rules. Microphone is said with a long “i” sound. That is, the “i” in that word rhymes with “eye.” When we look at mic, we do not think long “i.” We think “mick.” This is confusing and annoying to readers.
Furthermore, we don’t spell the short form of “bicycle” as “bic.” Yet the Associated Press would have us believe that mic rhymes with bike. What nonsense.
Naturally, the AP has reasons for its decision. Mic is the spelling used in the recording industry. It’s the version found on sound equipment — microphones, amplifiers, etc. Apparently, this has always been the case.
However, everyday newspaper readers don’t have to deal with sound equipment and are already accustomed to reading words that look as they are pronounced.
Among my dictionaries, only the Oxford Canadian even notes mic. Published in 1998, this source offers both mike and mic as abbreviations for microphone. Collins Gage, a more recent publication (2006), lists only mike.
New Twentieth Century (1927) contains the earliest reference in my collection to an abbreviation for microphone. This dictionary says, “mike. noun. colloquial. In radio, short for microphone.” There’s no entry for mic.
The process by which we got mike and mic is called “clipping” and refers to the practice of taking part of a word to represent the whole. We readily see this in pro for professional; in phone for telephone; in condo for condominium.
The above examples retain the spellings found in the original words, just as mic keeps the first three letters of microphone. But there’s precedent for altering spelling to accommodate pronunciation as we have already seen with bike/bicycle.
Another example is fax. Fax is the clipped form of “facsimile.” Actually, it refers both to “facsimile” and to the method of sending — facsimile transmission.
If we followed the lead of mic, we’d write facs. Does anyone do this?
Coke is another instance where spelling change bows to pronunciation. No one abbreviates Coca Cola as Coc. And Sault Ste. Marie’s nickname is always spelled, The Soo.
Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for the New York Times, in discussing this mic/mike controversy said, “Let the musicians have their mic, as for me, I still like mike.”
So do I. So does nearly everyone who blinks and re-reads whenever mic shows up on the printed page.