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I hear FAQ(s) pronounced like a word in "FACK(s)", while I go letter by letter. In usage, what is more common?

(Similar to SQL vs Sequel)

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7  
I better not tell you how the Russians pronounce it... –  RegDwigнt Oct 19 '10 at 8:47
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@RegDwight - They pronounce it "Dark Star". –  Neil Fein Jul 12 '11 at 2:37

6 Answers 6

I believe that the more common one is "fæk". According to Wikipedia:

Since the acronym FAQ originated in textual media, its pronunciation varies; "fack," "fax," "facts," and "F.A.Q." are commonly heard.

Wikipedia's sources are the Jargon file and FAQs about FAQs.

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+1 I'm used to hearing "fack" –  ukayer Feb 9 '11 at 7:16

I have only ever heard it pronounced 'Eff Ay Que'.

However it does seem to be one of those phrases that will never have a 'proper' pronunciation.

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I think that eff-ay-que is the least ambiguous pronunciation, altho as noted here, there is not really a formally correct one. (As if English had formally correct pronunciations for anything, haha. :-) ) –  Mike Pope Oct 19 '10 at 15:41

In a general sense, initialisms and acronyms are most properly pronounced as the letters, e.g. "Eye Arr Ess" or "Arr Pee Jee" rather than "Erse" or "R'pug." Pronouncing the letters individually rather than coming up with a pronunciation for something that is not an actual word avoids misunderstandings.

That being said, especially in contexts where the given acronym or initialism will be used often (FAQ in a web context; various military acronyms) there will often be an accepted pronunciation that the community recognizes for use within the community.

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"In a general sense, initialisms and acronyms are most properly pronounced as the letters." I have to disagree with this generalization. Even in the most formal situations, it would not ever be preferred to pronounce e.g. NATO, AIDS, ROM, or SCUBA as a string of letters. If I were to speak the letters A-I-D-S it would simply be confusing and, for all practical purposes, considered wrong. –  Kosmonaut Oct 18 '10 at 20:50
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NATO, AIDS, and SCUBA have entered the vernacular as words in their own right--same with RADAR which is technically an initialism, but which has been (through its context in military usage) used often enough as an ersatz word that it has gained legitimacy. This is one of the ways in which the language has evolved over time. –  munin Oct 18 '10 at 21:20
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I'm curious that people still sometimes spell "scuba" in all uppercase but never do for radar. Or is that my imagination? –  Mike Pope Oct 19 '10 at 5:13
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No, you're right; many people do not recognize RADAR as an initialism (RAdio Detection And Ranging, for the curious) because it's been in the language as a 'word' for longer than a generation. –  munin Oct 19 '10 at 15:28
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It's also of note that quite a few initialisms are consciously construct to be pronouncable as a word. Not sure of examples, but SCUBA seems to be one, and RADAR, well, "RAdio" makes it an non-initialism anyway. ;-) LASER also comes to mind as an initalism that was means to be spoken as a word. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 19 '11 at 15:05

In order to avoid misunderstandings I think FAQ should be pronounced as an initialism (where you keep each letter separated: Eff-Ay-Kyu) rather than as an acronym (where the letters are pronounced as a word: fack).

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The only reasonably objective way I can think of to gauge the relative popularity of the pronunciations "fack" and "f-a-q" is by consulting a Google Ngram Viewer chart for "a FAQ" versus "an FAQ." Here's the chart I got matching "a FAQ" (red line) against "an FAQ" (blue line) for the years 1980 through 2008 in English-language publications of all sorts:

Though historically "a FAQ" has been more common, the results for the two options are so close for the last few years included in the chart that their relative popularity in 2014 is anyone's guess.

The results for American English publications are much the same as the overall results:

But the results for British English publications are somewhat friendlier to "an FAQ" and yet at the same time seemingly more volatile:

On the strength of these charts, both pronunciations of FAQ appear to be thoroughly mainstream. As a precautionary measure, you might ask around to see whether a consensus exists in your workplace favoring one pronunciation or the other, since such a local consensus might amount to a house style on pronunciation. But if no such consensus exists, I think that you should feel free to use whichever pronunciation you prefer.

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That is quite interesting that the fæk/fæks pronunciation is losing ground to the initialism and in the most recent year available been surpassed. Conventional wisdom would dictate it should go the other way around. –  guifa Aug 28 at 0:49
    
Hi, guifa. I wouldn't read to much into any one- or two- or three-year change in frequency, especially at the near end of the chart, but I admit that I was surprised that the "F-A-Q" pronunciation appears to be doing so well in 2008 publications. At the publishers where I've worked, we often finessed the issue by restructuring sentences to avoid putting an indefinite article before the word FAQ (because inevitably we'd get letters from readers complaining that we'd gotten the article wrong). –  Sven Yargs Aug 28 at 0:54
    
True (especially for the British one), but there's still a very steady downward trend on fæk in AmEng, with a plateau for F-A-Q. Either way, you would think though that the initialism form would be moribund once the acronym form took over. 'Tis curious, if nothing else. –  guifa Aug 28 at 1:04

Generally, three letter acronyms are pronounced as individual letters. Acronyms of four letters or more are pronounced as words.

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