This chapter about how to abbreviate microphone (mic or mike), excerpted from Ben Yagoda's book You Need to Read This, is near and dear to my podcasting heart. I'll always abbreviate it mic. Ben prefers mike. Read on to see what the Associated Press has to say.
Some years ago, my daughter Elizabeth Yagoda decided she wanted to be known by a certain first name: Lizy.
If you heard it, you’d probably expect that she spells it “Lizzie.” In fact, she spells it “Lizy.”
According to my understanding of traditional English phonics and spelling conventions, this should be pronounced to rhyme with prize-he. However, she hasn’t encountered any confusion or pushback on her name, which supports my sense that traditional English phonics and spelling conventions are changing.
Exhibit B on that point is a word in this sentence published by The New York Times not long ago: “The mic has three settings, one for voice, one for music and one raw, enhancement audio.” The word I refer to, of course, is mic. I grew up used to the abbreviation for microphone being spelled as well as pronounced mike; to me, mic would come out of people’s mouths as mick.
Only a handful of other abbreviations occur, or have been presented, to me whose pronunciation flouts conventional phonetics. Three of them flout it the same way: Reg (short for Reginald), veg (short for vegetable), and frig (short for refrigerator, popular in the 1940s and ‘50s until it was quite properly supplanted by fridge). Zine, short for magazine, would be expected to be pronounced to rhyme with sign, but it can be excused because it follows the spelling and pronunciation of the longer form.
Mic is doubly problematic because English simply does not have a robust tradition of words ending in c. Short words, that is: fantastic, antic, ironic, and at least 3,639 others of two or more syllables, most of them adjectives, are well established. The list put together by the morewords.com Web site contains only five one-syllable words, none of which is mic and all of which (except for chic, which, being French doesn’t apply to this discussion) rhyme with mick.
One of the remaining four is an abbreviation—pic, short for picture. Of the rest, the OED defines hic as “an imitation of the sound of a hiccup, esp. as an interruption in the speech of a drunken person,” and cites Punch (1898), “What’s (hic) Cuba to him, or he (hic) to Cuba?” Tic can refer to a repeated twitching, especially in the face, or by extension to an obsessive or reflexive behavior. It, too, derives from French, specifically the name for the facial neuralgia leading to twitching, tic douloureux.
The final word, sic, has two main meanings. The first comes from Latin for so or thus and refers to a parenthetical insertion indicating that the perceived mistake in a quotation was made by the original speaker or writer. The second, almost always in the imperative mood and followed by him, is a verb inciting or encouraging a dog or animal (or by extension a person) to attack some other creature (or by extension a task or problem). The OED describes it as an Americanism derived from seek; interestingly, the original citation from 1845 and the majority of them through about 1950 are spelled sick. For examples, in Light in August (1932), Faulkner writes, “They couldn’t run him away if they was to sick them bloodhounds on him.” The adoption of the sic spelling has led to the unfortunate present tense form sicced, which is weird.
There are also at least a few proper names not mentioned in the list. Nic (an unaccountably recently popular nickname [not nicname] for Nicholas), Vic, and Bic, a tradename for ballpoint pens. All are mick-rhymers. (And note that our mike-rhyming two-wheeled vehicles are bikes not bics.)