On Pedantry, Linguistics, and the Proper Spelling of Technical Terms

The word microphone is commonly shortened as mic.


This is a fact. Look at the mix desk in your studio, the board in the booth at your church, the wall jacks in your conference room.
Mic.
Not mike.
Mike is around the studio, and on the tour--he plays the guitar (or the axe, but that's another post...)--but Mike does not plug into the jacks on your mixer with an XLR cable. Mike does not go back into the box/drawer/closet at the end of the session. Mike goes home--or wherever Mike goes at the end of the night.
Actually, it's probably best if you don't think about where Mike goes and what Mike does after the gig.

My point is, at the end of the night you wrap up all of the cables and put the mics into the box/drawer/mic closet.

Perhaps I'm being a bit silly here, but I hope that I've made my point. Mike is not the correct spelling of the abbreviated form of microphone.
Samuel Bayer disagrees with me. That is, he claims that I am wrong in my spelling. He also claims to hold a Ph.D. in linguistics.
Dr. Bayer gives a very long and detailed list of reasons for changing our usage of mic to mike, but we can safely ignore his suggestion for a very simple reason: we (being those in the sound recording and reinforcement industry, or anyone who uses microphones on a regular basis) already use mic. It's written on all of our stuff. We all recognise it, and it works for us.
I see the problem with micing as opposed to miking. I can accept the use of mike as an alternate spelling specifically for the root of a new verb form (to construct miking/miked.) This doesn't change the fact that most everyone in the industry spells the noun form (basically a different word) as mic.
For a linguist to poke his head into the booth and say "oh, you've got it wrong, the way you should be spelling this is mike!" is absurd. There are many reasons to listen to Dr. Bayer about the benefits of an alternate spelling, but his status as a linguist is not one of those reasons. Linguists cannot prescribe the correct spelling of a word in a dialect. Prescriptive rules of spelling have nothing to do with linguistics. Linguists describe the ways that people use words, they never tell people how to use their own words correctly.

Now, it would be different for Dr. Bayer to suggest that in Standard English we might find a need for such a word as mike and accept it it as a standard spelling; but that's not what we're talking about here at all. We're talking about a dialect. The dialect of sound engineers, much like the dialect of oil-rig laborers (who use some very interesting constructions and spellings in their day-to-day-language, let me tell you) is not any less "correct" than Standard English. When you're in Rome, you speak as the Romans do. (This way, people might actually understand you.) When you're writing a memo to your band mates, to your event host, or to whomever you might write a note to, you write with the words that will be recognised and understood by those people.
In fact, the only way to use a word incorrectly in a dialect is to use it in a way that's different from the norm.
That would be... why, exactly what Dr. Bayer is advocating.


I'm torn as to what form of this term I would ever use if it came up in a scholarly essay. The OED seems to have been unfairly influenced by some pedant or other who is out of touch with the industry, and gives preference to mike. I usually defer to the OED in these matters, because scholarly essays are written to other scholars, most of whom use Standard English as the language of discourse. The OED is an excellent representative of spelling and meaning for words in Standard English.
In this case, however, I think I'm going to have to stand my ground and introduce a bit of dialectical flexibility into my academic discourse.

2 comments:

aj said...

I didn't even realize there was debate on the matter. I've never even encountered anyone who used "mike". It's unthinkable.

naomi said...

I have to agree with you brother. As a principle mic just wouldn't be the same spelled mike.