in user experience, venting


it makes me flinch just a little when I read a page written from a usability perspective about how different countries and cultures have language and other nuances that need to be accounted for in experience design, and to find that the page is littered with US spelling. Now, I know, it was written in the States, and that’s how you spell things over there. It’s just feels a little ironic or paradoxical perhaps when the words are localization, globalization, and internationalization.

I propose that in this context (when we who talk about such things are talking to each other) we use this format: internationali(s/z)ation. It’s like a little natural reminder that the only our American friends use the letter Z with such frequency and that the rest of us English speakers have probably had Microsoft Word try to correct our spelling for the better part of the time we’ve been interactive with technology.

So, perhaps I’m a little sensitive… go take a look at this page on the new Usability Body of Knowledge website and see if you think I’m overreacting.


  1. This is a slippery slope indeed!

    “I got a flat (tyre/tire) on my way to a meeting with Client Co., who (are/is) launching a new product. Since I didn’t have a (flannel/washcloth) in the (boot/trunk) to clean my hands and I didn’t want to soil the (bum/fanny (have fun with *that* one)) of my (trousers/pants), I (rang/called) roadside assistance. While I was waiting, I noticed a small dent, so I tried to (ring/call) the (panelbeater/body shop), but my (mobile/cell) said it couldn’t initiali(s/z)e the call. ‘(Bollocks!/Crap!)’, I shouted, and (screwed up my/made a) face in disgust. My (bloody/damned) (mobile/cell) carrier (are/is) totally incompetent, (they/it) can’t do anything without (bollocksing/screwing) it up! I lit up a (fag/cigarette) while I was waiting…”

  2. bummer, i was sure you’d work a thong in there somewhere. (the varying interpretation of thong, as either racy underwear or casual footwear, can be the cause of much mirth).

    and, yes. I know I’m just skating on the surface of a great black hole. Just thought I’d mention it ;)

  3. Leisa! No! Please no! Punctuation is a usability issue. It’s job is to make life easier for the reader. When a sentence is punctuated correctly, the reader should be able to read it once and understand it instantly. Why would we sacrifice simplicity to make a point?

  4. Gah! If only I’d thought of it! If we’re talking about footwear, we’d have to throw “jandal” in for the Kiwis…

    Danish and Norwegian are very similar languages. My gradmother, who is Danish, was once in a stuffy meeting in Norway and couldn’t find her handbag, so she asked if anyone had seen it—having forgotten that the Danish work for handbag means “whore” in Norwegian.

  5. @ Stephen – yeah, yeah, I know. And I was only suggesting using this format within a very limited community, certainly not with ‘normal people’ ;) I figure, if can get away with that kind of punctuation for no apparent reason, surely we can be a little creative with punctuation if we have a good reason? No?

    nevermind, i’m only half serious.

    @ Anne

    what’s with that abbreviation?! Have you ever seen anything like that before? I certainly haven’t.

    For those who missed it, from the Usability BOK page:

    The terms are commonly abbreviated following the same pattern: the first letter of the word followed by the number of letters between the first and the last letter followed by the last letter: I18N=internationalization, G11N=globalization, and L10N=localization.

    sure, it saves some typing, but…seriously, is this a common way to abbreviate long words? a number to represent the number of letters between the first and last letter.?.. what are we doing here? Cryptic Crosswords? :)

  6. ok. I’ve found some background:

    A DEC employee named Jan Scherpenhuizen was given an email account of S12n by a system administrator, since his name was too long to be an account name. This approach to abbreviating long names was intended to be humorous and became generalized at DEC. The convention was applied to “internationalization” at DEC which was using the numeronym by 1985.

    Use of the term spread. Searching the net, we found uses on-line as early as 1989. It was being used on /usr/group, which evolved into UniForum. The X Window standards community was also using the abbreviation by 1989. Looking in printed texts, the earliest reference I could find was in the book Soft Landing in Japan, published by American Electronic Association, 1992.

    The extension of this naming convention to the terms Localization (l10n), Europeanization (e13n), Japanization (j10n), Globalization (g11n), seemed to come somewhat after the invention of “i18n”. The terms Canonicalization and Normalization, defined more recently, also have numeronym forms (c14n and n11n).


    It makes perfect sense that this originated with a System Administrator dealing with a shortcoming with technology. They must be *wetting* themselves to see usability people stillĀ  using this form of abbreviation!

  7. hrm. Although. W3C are also using this abbreviation, a little….

    ok. Enough talking to myself for the moment. What do you guys think?

  8. Leisa: yeah, pretty weird, I know. I had forgotten all about those abbreviations until last night my husband said to me, “do you know what l10n means?” He is just getting up to speed on IT lingo because he took a new job selling content management systems. I was familiar with i18n from my stint at Oracle so I could guess what l10n meant.

    anyway, interesting background you found. I’m more software developer than usability expert so that’s probably why I’m like “sure, let’s use that cryptic abbreviation.”

  9. that’s a funny coincidence Anne :)

    now I’m starting to think of Kathy Sierra’s Congnative Pleasures in the context of this cryptic abbreviation.

    It’s almost not an abbreviation – it’s more like a code. You really do need to know what that combination of letters and numbers stands for… 18 letters is really too many to guess (for me at least!)

Comments are closed.


  • Anne 2.0 » A2e Z5a on I18N and L10N May 6, 2006

    […] Leisa Reichelt of disambiguity feels annoyed by US spelling such as “internationalization” versus “internationalisation” or “localization” versus “localisation.” I offered a geeky alternative: I18N and L10N. Don’t we all speak the language of numbers? Back in my enterprisey days at Oracle, we used I18N almost exclusively in our extensive written spec and design documents on the subject of making our software fit for global use. It never struck me funny, because as a programmer, I was familiar with many apparently cryptic shortcuts, like Hungarian notation. […]