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I run comedy shows, and at these comedy shows there is always an "open mike" section.

Frequently I get people saying to me, shouldn't it be "open mic", because "mic" should be the shortened version of "microphone".

My case is that "mic" is not a short form, it's an abbreviation, which is different. It's not really meant to be a word, it's only used in conditions where the display of the word does not accommodate all the letters.

With an abbreviation, it is sometimes conventional to place a period at the end to convey that this is just part of a word. Like one would use approx. for approximately.

Mike is the correct short form, the same way "bike" is short for bicycle.

Looking around on the net, there is a lot of discussion, mostly heated, and there are a lot of proponents for "mic".

However, I don't think this is a democratic issue.

I believe the only reason "mic" has bled into spoken English and is mistakenly thought to be more correct than "mike" is because electronic equipment is widely used and seen. The space above a microphone jack is limited, and thus it is shortened to "mic", not to follow any grammatical rules, but just for space.

There is no similarly common and parallel situation for "bicycle", which is why we never see "bic" in place of "bike".

In order to make my case that "mike" is the appropriate short form for "microphone", I feel that one can look to the conventions of English usage that support that.

I would like to know if there are formalized rules for the conversion of words like bicycle and microphone to bike and mike. Or nuclear to nuke would be another example.

Also, the difference between abbreviation and shortening of a word seem distinct to me, but I find that when explaining this issue they are too synonymous and people don't see a distinction. Is there a better way to convey the difference?

Please note I am firmly in the camp that thinks that "mic" is wrong, I am just looking for linguistic terminology and etymological roots to explain it. It would take a stunningly compelling argument to change my position.

... Or maybe I should just say to heck with it and call it "open stage"...

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"Bicycle" couldn't be shortened to "bic", because there would be tremendous ambiguity about the pronunciation: would it be "bike" or "bice". Ever read SE Hinton's The Outsiders? I've always wondered, when the characters shortened "socialite" to "soc", was it "soak" or "soash" (or maybe "sosh")? The movie was full of actors (C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Leif Garrett) I avoid, so I never heard its version of it. Anyway, "microphone" has no such problem. –  Malvolio Aug 3 '11 at 12:07
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@Malvolio: Maybe, but it's not as if there was ever a time when people tried writing "bic" and then a consensus grew that it was ambiguous. Right from the start, it followed the standard convention. Nuclear->nuke, Coca Cola->coke, cucumber->cuke... and I just found this site: sambayer.com/tirades/whymike.html which I think lays down the linguistic argument pretty solidly. "mic" is an exception to all the rules, and fails to deliver as a verb. –  Dave M G Aug 3 '11 at 13:47
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While I was learning English, I always pronounced mic as it was written. To my surprise, when I started hearing english speakers, all of them said mike. Something similar happened to me with bass as in the musical instrument. I always pronounced bass much like mass, ass, grass, etc. but was surprised when everybody pronounced it like base. –  Petruza Aug 3 '11 at 14:10
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The funny thing is that open microphone just sounds wrong. –  Kzqai Aug 3 '11 at 15:48
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@Mavolio You stated that "microphone" has no such problem. I dare to disagree - I'm a non-native English speaker and for me it's not by any means intuitive whether "mic" should be pronounced [mik] or [maik] as in "microphone". –  Kos Aug 3 '11 at 16:25
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Mike is a noun informally used to mean microphone; it is a term used in both British and American English. Mic is a short for microphone.

Looking at the Corpus of Contemporary American English, there are 119 sentences containing "open mike," and 48 sentences containing "open mic."

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Agreed. Google Books says 1910 results for "an open mic night", but 3970 for "an open mike night". I think none of those will be irrelevant accidental collocations, and even if GB's estimates aren't reliable, I see no reason why one of the two versions would be any more unreliable than the other one, so I'm not even going to bother digging any deeper. Those headline numbers are conclusive re actual usage. –  FumbleFingers Mar 30 '12 at 22:57
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Clearly you've given it a lot of thought, and I don't think there is going to be an argument that will sway you. Merriam-Webster says that both are correct, and classifies them both as nouns (rather than abbreviations). It says mike is older, and has a separate entry for open mike. So you can feel completely comfortable and justified using mike, though you will have a hard time convincing mic fans that mic is wrong, particularly with both being endorsed by a reputable authority. I suspect mic is gaining in popularity relative to mike.

Personally, I prefer mic because (as noted by Malvolio and Hostile Fork) there is less chance for ambiguity or misunderstanding.

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Fair point. I understand that language is fluid, and mic may over take mike, but I do take issue with the people who speak as if "mic" has always been the correct way. They can make a case that it is more logical, but not that it is more authoritatively right. Also, I do appreciate the issue of ambiguity. But I'd rather switch to "open stage" than conform to what is essentially a hiccup in the language. –  Dave M G Aug 3 '11 at 5:44
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There are some issues with your reasoning for adamantly using "open mike". First, you mention that the term "open mic" is used on microphone stands because of spatial limitations. For that to be true, you'd have to believe that the manufacturers have room for exactly three letters and not the four required for "mike". Second, you've seemingly indicated in your comment that you agree that "open mic" is less ambiguous, but you wouldn't use it even if ambiguity became a concern. That comes off as more contrarian than non-conformist. –  Corey Aug 3 '11 at 17:13
    
@Corey: My point was not that I agree that "open mic" is in fact less ambiguous, just that I can at least appreciate that people who make that claim are trying to be reasonable. And yes, I do think the three letters is fairly standard when abbreviating for space. Like how when shoing months, "June" is abbreviated to "Jun" even though it is the one month that could display in entirety. –  Dave M G Aug 4 '11 at 1:50
    
@Dave I get you. The part of your question that stood out the most was where you said it would take a "stunningly compelling" reason to change your mind (as if merely being compelling is not good enough). I probably focused too deeply on the modifier. –  Corey Aug 4 '11 at 14:42
    
@Corey: Sorry, I have a penchant for hyperbole. I might have expressed myself poorly, but my intention was that I had hoped to focus entirely on the rules of English that guide how words are shortened, and not merely open a vote on which version of "mike" or "mic" people like better. I guess there was no avoiding it, though. –  Dave M G Aug 5 '11 at 1:38
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Certainly whenever a piece of electronic equipment has a microphone jack, it's marked "mic."

If you put up a sign saying "Open Mike", some fraction on the population will expect a performance by an unusually candid comedian named Michael.

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I've always thought "Open Mike Night" sounded too much like it could be a public surgery demonstration. My vote here is for "Open Mic Night" because people definitely know what you mean and it doesn't have the distraction of a common English name embedded in it. –  HostileFork Aug 3 '11 at 4:17
    
Thank you for helping to identify part of the reason why mic is mistakenly believed to be the abbreviation for microphone. I've updated my question. –  Dave M G Aug 3 '11 at 5:41
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@Dave M G: It's not just where space is limited. You will find mic in plenty of prose, where there is ample room for any of mic, mike, or microphone. One thing working in mic's favor over mike, besides the fact that Mike is a name, is that mike seems more informal than mic. You are welcome to defend mike, as it is correct; but you will not get far attacking mic, which is also correct, and probably overtaking mike in actual usage. –  John Y Aug 3 '11 at 5:48
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@Dave M G -- Russell, Matt, John, Jean, April, May, June, Faith, Hope, Charity, Grace, Prudence, Rob, Josh, Frank, Neil, Mark, Woody, Ray, and Victor might agree. –  Malvolio Aug 4 '11 at 3:55
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Man with no arms and legs jokes! Yeah!!! –  ErikE Mar 30 '12 at 23:10
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protected by RegDwigнt Mar 30 '12 at 19:10

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