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The LED is quickly becoming a standard light source alternative to incandescent lights, when speaking to others, I have always pronounced any reference to LED as the acronym "L E D", but increasingly I have heard others refer to LED as "lead".

Staff at large box stores often use the "lead" reference, and several of my family have also used the word "lead" in reference to LED.

What I find interesting is that LED's have been around since the 1960's and were always referred to as an acronym. Anyone who studied electrical engineering in school would not use "lead" in a sentence.

Still times have changed and "lead" is increasingly being used.

Is it correct to use the word "lead" to refer to LED?

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It's no more incorrect than fluro instead of fluorescent lighting. (Proper light shop) attendants insist calling the light bulb a lamp. Don't expect anyone in a hardware store or even a common light store to understand anything about light spectrums and other light quality related matters. Reason I mention this is that the (lowest) common denominator usually becomes the norm. I'm confused if you want the norm or correctness. Not that I've been raised with a golden spoon or such. LED (lead) is common term now but, they're not buying it because it's not strong..unless you go a real light store $ –  Chris Nov 8 '12 at 0:20
    
I've been asked is "lead" was correct, and sometimes I correct people not to use "lead". With that said, I may incorrect in doing so. –  Mathew Foscarini Nov 8 '12 at 0:28
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You tell us what standard for "correctness" you wish to apply, and we may be able to tell you whether or not it is correct. There is no universal or authoritative standard for what is "correct" in English. –  Colin Fine Nov 8 '12 at 0:36
    
Thanks for speeling it out @Colin Fine. 2+2=5 is incorrect but, there's no clear-cut correctness with regard to popular terminology. A long time ago the radio was called a wireless. Were they incorrect? –  Chris Nov 8 '12 at 0:48
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What I find interesting is that LED's have been around since the 1960's and were always referred to as an acronym. An acronym is an abbreviation/initialism that's pronounced, like NASA but not the BBC. Anyway, I think saying either "L. E. D." or "led" is fine. –  Hugo Nov 8 '12 at 16:47
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7 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I'm from Poland where I studied electronics and I say LED as in lead, but we don't have any other word(s) to mix it up with, whereas you have lead and led in English. I have noticed people pronounced it as acronym only.

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Setting aside the question of "correct" pronunciation, we can look at actual usage and draw some conclusions. Although this is a question about pronunciation, we are lucky in that we can look at written usage to get clues about pronunciation: if someone writes "an LED" we can assume they would have used the spelling pronunciation, and if they write "a LED" we can assume they would have used the word pronunciation.

A quick perusal at Google Ngrams shows that "an LED" is more commonly used, so the spelling pronunciation’s correctness is not in question. However, we can look at how common do we find "a LED", indicating a likely use of the word pronunciation

Google ngram for "an LED" vs "a LED"

We see that since the 1980s, when the term came into wide use, about 20% of usages have held pretty steadily with the word pronunciation.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Well, not a lot. The spelling pronunciation is definitely preferred, but the word pronunciation is not unknown. It doesn't seem to be going away, so I would say it has established itself as a valid, though less common, variant.

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+1 for being clever –  Mathew Foscarini Nov 8 '12 at 1:20
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I didn't know you could put formulae in Google nGrams! Nice trick. :-) –  Pitarou Nov 8 '12 at 6:00
    
One thing to factor in, though: Some style prescriptions insist either that the indefinite article before an abbreviation/acronym must agree with the pronunciation of the first letter or that of the word, and the author has but to comply. –  Kris Nov 8 '12 at 15:10
    
@Pitarou Click on the 'Help' link -- there's plenty interesting in there. –  Kris Nov 8 '12 at 15:13
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@DavidSchwartz Google Ngrams are case sensitive, so these matches are only for cases where the word is spelled "LED" preceded by a lowercase "a" or "an" –  nohat Sep 18 '13 at 4:30
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As founder and editor of LEDs Magazine, I'd like to offer the following: the most common usage is to pronounce the letters L E D and to add a letter s for the plural, in the same way as one would write or pronounce TVs. Our publication would always write "an LED." However, it's also relatively common to pronounce "led" to rhyme with "dead." I believe the Dictionary extract quoted above is incorrect, since it should never be correct usage to write the letters in lower case. LED or L.E.D. only.

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Do you ever have articles on RADAR? –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 12 '12 at 15:43
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thank you, Tim! :) –  Mathew Foscarini Nov 12 '12 at 16:16
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The Oxford English Dictionary has LED pronounced /ɛliːˈdiː/ ... Also the alternate spelling l.e.d. ... they list a third alternate spelling led with pronunciation /lɛd/ .

added for Tim

The OED does not try to tell us what is "correct usage" but only what they find actually used. Most of their examples are LED but they do have these as well:

1975 Hi-Fi Answers Feb. 78/2 The light pulses from the led are picked up by a photo-conductive cell and applied to the filter.

1976 Pract. Electronics Oct. 810 (caption) Block diagram of the system using two separate l.e.d. displays.

1982 What's New in Computing Nov. 19/2 The logger can be programmed to these levels, indicating on a led display which channel is giving a fault condition signal.

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+1 good answer. Never thought of looking in the dictionary. lol –  Mathew Foscarini Nov 8 '12 at 17:44
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In speech, the context also determines how it is pronounced.

An /ˌel iː ˈdiː/ TV compared to an LCD TV;
but
/led/ lights compared to a neon lights.

LED (yourdictionary.com)
lead. ☆. noun. a semiconductor diode that emits light when voltage is applied: used in electric lighting, alphanumeric displays, as on digital watches, etc.

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In UK science and engineering both are common. I would say that "L E D" is more widely used among electronics types, while old mechanical engineers go for pronouncing it as "led". As there are now some brand names (Lumileds) that clearly pronounce (and even capitalise) it as a word, this form seems to be on the increase.

Although there are homophones, they are not easily confused in context - although lead (Pb) is a noun, "a lead" makes sense only in a limited range of contexts (pencils, weights for some specific purposes), while a light emitting diode is always going to have some sort of electrical/lighting context.

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In Australia, among technical folks (Engineers and Technicians) since the 1970's the pronunciation was as in the word 'led'. Recently in lighting commercials for the great unwashed, the pronunciation is to pronounce each letter individually.

I have also noted that amongst the technically uneducated, the preferred pronunciation is L E D.

I was taught in high school, that an acronym should be pronounced depending on its spelling, hence UNICEF instead of U N I C E F, UNESCO instead of U N E S C O, NASA instead of N A S A, ADFA (Australian Defence Force Academy) instead of A D F A; i.e. the rule is if there are vowels between consonants, the acronym should be pronounced as a word.

Pronouncing L.E.D as 'led', means selecting a consistent form of pronunciation, and if a person pronounces each letter separately as in L E D, they must be consistent and say N A S A not NASA.

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Since when has anything in English pronunciation ever been consistent? –  Matt Sep 18 '13 at 8:29
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