Numeronyms 101: Localization Lingo

By United Language Group

L10N? I18N? G11N? What do these phrases mean?

If you’re not privy to the localization and translation lexicon, these abbreviations are probably confusing.

These brief descriptors are referred to as numeronyms, and are used to shorten what would otherwise be longer phrases. Numeronyms, essentially, are words created with the help of numbers.

In the language industry, Localization is often written as L10N – using the first and last letters of the word, L and N, and the number 10 to identify the number of characters used in between the two to spell it out.

I18N, then, refers to Internationalization. Again, I is used as the first letter, N the last, and the number 18 signifies the letters in between. Further, Globalization is described as G11N.

Why Use Numeronyms?

The reasoning behind numeronym use is brevity. Why take the time to spell out localization if you can quickly key L10N?

Numeronyms date back to the 1980s, and the first use is thought to have its origins at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), a former computer equipment company. An administrator gave DEC employee Jan Scherpenhuizen an email account with the handle s12n to shorten his long last name.

Initially seen as an inside joke, the terminology stuck, and by 1985 the company used this method to spell out Internationalization.

An Issue of Semantics

Numeronyms are not the same as acronyms or initialisms. An acronym uses the first letters of a group of words to create a word or phrase in itself – think NASA or OPEC. On the other hand, an initialism uses the first letters of a group of words that are pronounced separately. CPU, for instance, is an initialism.

Not all numeronyms use the L10N structure. Some take on different forms, like “101,” referring to an introductory course, or K9, meaning canine.

Localization Cheat Sheet

For those new to translation and localization, here is a brief list of numeronyms used commonly in the language industry.

The web has a number of different numeronym lists and Multilingual has a great resource glossary that lays out common terms and abbreviations used in the language translation field.

So, there you have it: A 101 style introduction to numeronyms.

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