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Humanist Archives: April 3, 2022, 8:29 a.m. Humanist 35.632 - acronymic (un)problematic

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 632.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
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        Date: 2022-04-02 10:31:18+00:00
        From: Christian-Emil Smith Ore <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.631: the acronymic problematic

Dear all,

Frequently used acronyms tends to become nouns or may be other POS (!), For
example "The National Health Service (NHS)"  in UK: "The NHS is a national
service" , "Most Kiwi POWs were soldiers captured in Greece" etc. Such acronyms
will often get their own pronunciation.

What an acronym denotes (means) is another thing. This can change over time as
does the meaning of ordinary words. Nothing extraordinary.

AI used to denote a sub field of Computer Science, but has apparently started to
mean a product or an application.  It is told that term Artificial Intelligence
was suggested at a US conference  in the 1960 and was widely used because of its
potential to get funding of research, a potential it still has. In the 1980ies
applications written in LISP  were AI and applications written in  PROLOG were
Knowledge Engineering.  Then we got neural networks (again an anthropomorphism)
and neural networks 2.0 and then AI again.

Christian-Emil Ore
Univeristy of Oslo

From: Humanist <>
Sent: 02 April 2022 09:34
To: Christian-Emil Smith Ore
Subject: [Humanist] 35.631: the acronymic problematic

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 631.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2022-04-01 11:44:02+00:00
        From: Tim Smithers <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.624: acronyms problematic?

Dear Willard,

I don't think acronyms lose meaning, nor come to obscure their
meaning.  Rather, their meaning changes.

Take, as you do, the AI of Artificial Intelligence.  At the
beginning, and during its early years, AI meant what people in
the (then new) field worked on: artificial forms of
intelligence.  In more recent times, AI has moved from being
an acronym to being a noun (a lexical item, to give it it's
posh name).  So we now hear of AIs, as if people in AI work on
making AIs, like people who work in History work on making
histories, or people in Chemistry work on making chemicals.
(This doesn't work for the CS of Computer Science, a
contemporary neighbour of AI. We can't say people in CS work
on making CSs, but let's not worry about that.)

It's all rather circular, of course.  If you ask what an AI is
you get told it's some kind of intelligent thing like us, but
built by people, as if intelligence can now have an existence
of it's own, rather than being some quality of being an animal
(or plant, perhaps), as it used to be understood.  But this I
see as just another example of the way we freely skate around
on the big ice rink of meaning.  It's a psychedelic ice rink.
We skate to patches of a particular colour, but, as we skate
over them, their colour changes, so that 'AI' is now what you
must say your product has if you want to sell it well.  It
means glitter.

People used to complain that 'Artificial Intelligence' was
oxymoronic.  I would say 'Machine Learning', ML, is just daft.
There's no learning going on -- it's properly understood as
programming with data (loads and loads of data).  It's not
training either.  It's computer programming.  And it's not a
machine doing it.  The machine here is the computer that runs
the program that someone built.  ML just sounds grander: more
glitter, again.

So what of DH? Well, if you ask me, whenever I hear DH I
immediately think of H D Lawrence.  I can't help it.  Somehow
this got stuck in my head, and no amount of reading this good
list has unstuck it.  More seriously, I can see why you worry.
The 'digital' seems a bit arbitrary.  Chosen, may be, more for
its flavour than it's useful meaning giving.  The 'humanities'
seems good to me, but I'm not of its disciplines, so I may be
blind to its difficulties.  Still, how about HdD: Humanities
done Digitally?  Or perhaps HdC: Humanities done
Computationally.  ...  As I skate swiftly off to the dark red
end :)

Best regards,


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