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I've been a computer programmer for many years, and recently my father has been learning computer programming. Programmers often times will use a folder called "lib."

Not a native English speaker, my father pronounced "lib" like *lib*eria - short for "library."

When I corrected him and told him it's pronounced "lib" like *li*t, he asked why if "lib" is supposed to be short for "library."

I couldn't think of an answer why. I thought of other words such as

  • "pup", short for "puppy" is pronounced like the first part of puppy
  • "mic", short for "microphone" is pronounced like the first part of microphone

Why is "lib" not pronounced like the first part of library?

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For the same reason it's fidelity but hi-fi. (^_^) –  RegDwigнt Jan 23 '13 at 21:24
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Who else says it isn't? I pronounce "char" the same as the beginning of "character" when it is supposed to mean "character". –  GEdgar Jan 23 '13 at 21:31
    
I'm guilty of pronouncing lib and char phonetically. But GEdgar has a point: Who says it's not pronounced as it is in "library"? –  Alex Reidy Jan 23 '13 at 21:47
    
The pronunciation probably comes from ad-lib people have become used to pronouncing that with a hard b as in nib. The lib from library merely followed that, rather than a shortened form of library with a soft b as in libation. –  spiceyokooko Jan 23 '13 at 22:39
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3 Answers 3

Pronunciations of shortened forms and derived forms don't depend on those of originals. For instance, pronounce ~ pronunciation, professor ~ prof, library ~ lib, microphone ~ mic.

Trisyllabic laxing and precluster shortening should have shortened the first vowel in library; but it has not happened. That has to do with these: trisyllabic laxing does not apply to non-derived forms (Kiparsky's explanation); precluster shortening treats clusters like pr, br, etc as a single consonant. That's why we have historically long vowels in apron, April, acre (vs. Akron, OH), libra, maple (vs. apple). In the latter set, you can see ME open syllable lengthening as well.

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When there is a conflict between how you would expect an abbreviation to be pronounced judging from its spelling alone, and how you would expect judging from the sounds of the larger word, then it can go either way. Or in another direction entirely.

If we considered such abbreviations to be words in their own right then we wouldn't be surprised at this. Related words aren't always pronounced in matching ways, after all. Some also are pronounced in matching ways in some dialects and accents, and not in others.

The only real difference, is that if we are still thinking of it as an abbreviation (unlike say laser which most of us think of as fully a word rather than an initialism or amphetamine which most of us think of as fully a word rather than as an abbreviation for alphamethyl-phenethylamine), then they are probably quite recent.

Further, abbreviations can be coined in text quite separate from speech (people will still write etc and yet pronounce it et cetera and that's a very old one), or coined in speech quite separate from text (people form shortened forms of anything they regularly talk about, but often would still use the full form in writing). This in itself will have an effect on whether seeing lib will make you think /laɪˈb/ or /lɪb/.

There's also in this case the fact that we have several other abbreviations spelled lib. We've the long-standing ad lib for ad libitum, lib for Liberal (the name or part of the name of several political parties around the world), lib for liberation (as in "Woman's Lib", "Gay Lib" though that term has fallen out of favour, make of the lack of interest in liberation, what you will).

Of those matching the pronunciation of library, we've only a half-point, since Libra is sometimes pronounced /ˈlaɪbrə/ and sometimes /ˈlibrə/. (I've personally only encountered that as text-only abbreviations, pronounced as if they was written in full, and anyway).

So with so many cases of lib already pronounced /lɪb/, the odds where in the favour of that becoming the pronunciation used.

At least as far as I've heard. I've also found that abbreviations are more likely than other words to produce not only claiming that they pronounce it differently, but insisting quite strongly that they've only ever heard it that way in their lives.

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We call it a /lib/ folder for the same reason we call the "/etc" folder /et see/ and not "et cetera". Or the same reason we pronounce "var" as /vahr/ not /vaer/ or "bin" as /bin/ and not /bine/ and proc is not /pross/.

First, it's easier to say, but more importantly, these abbreviations are no longer abbreviations. They have become words on their own right. "/lib" no longer really stands for "library", it means "lib". No one refers to an ".exe" file as an "exeh" (-cutable) and ".co.uk" is pronounced with a long O. You generally pronounce neologisms how they're spelled, not by what they mean.

A nontechnical example is the word bus. "Bus" is short for omnibus (accent on the NI). If we were to pronounce it as an abbreviation, we'd call it a /bis/, but it's it's own word - a /bus/.

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Please excuse the fake IPA. I don't have the concentration right now to figure it out, but anyone's welcome to fix my mistakes. –  Charles Jan 24 '13 at 2:15
    
I've certainly heard the /etc folder pronounced the same way as etc normally is - expanded to et cetera. I don't recall ever hearing it pronounced as "et C", though I may just have not realised they were talking about the /etc folder. (Always mistrust "I have never heard"). –  Jon Hanna Jan 24 '13 at 12:04
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Note that this idea that you should pronounce abbreviations as they are spelled only works in technical computer-speak. I've only heard veg and Reg pronounced to rhyme with ledge and not beg. And synch rhymes with zinc, not pinch. –  Peter Shor Jan 25 '13 at 15:55
    
The person who named "etsy" said it came from the Italian "et si" ("Oh yes") which would also mean "and if" in Latin, but was primarily chosen because he wanted a meaningless word (meaningless in English) and he was watching a Fellini film where someone kept saying "oh, yes" which to an English-speaker is this meaningless phrase "etsy, etsy" being repeated. –  Jon Hanna Jan 25 '13 at 16:17
    
@PeterShor That's an interesting point. If it's true, I wonder why that is. My guess is that it's the difference between a language that's mostly spoken (English) and a language that's mostly written (tech-speak). –  Charles Jan 25 '13 at 20:28
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