Monday, November 21, 2016

ICCA or ICCA(s)?

 Oh boy…this one is going to get me in trouble…

The ICCA is upon us once again! Soon our social media feeds will be swamped with groups who win, groups who lose, groups who should have won but didn’t, and groups who won but shouldn’t have done so.

Chances are, another ICCA-related matter will probably pop up on our social media feeds…Someone will inevitably say “ICCAs” and someone else will yell at him/her.

But here’s my question…Is it grammatically incorrect to say ICCAs? Your first thought is probably: “Yes. Obviously. Why are we even discussing this matter? Your blog is stupid.”

Let’s put aside personal opinions and hatred of me for a moment, and let’s take a serious, analytical look at this issue:

The case for “S”

While writing my dissertation, I came across the very issue I am analyzing now: Do I write the “ICCAs” or “ICCA competitions,” or something entirely different. I decided to ask the style guides, (APA, Chicago Style, MLA) for help.

Unsurprisingly, the amount of information they had on pluralizing acronyms was small or non-existent. But I was able to find the following:

“In APA, abbreviations should be limited to instances when a) the abbreviation is standard and will not interfere with the reader’s understanding and b) if space and repetition can be greatly avoided through abbreviation.”
-Purdue Online Writing Lab

“To form the plural of most abbreviations and statistical symbols, add s alone, but not italicized and without an apostrophe.”
-Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, pgs. 44 and 110

“If you can stop thinking of the spelled-out meaning of the acronym and just treat the acronym itself as a word with its own meaning, you should be able to add that little s without fretting.”

“Write the plural form of an acronym without an apostrophe”
-MLA Style Sheet

The information gathered from this research draws no formal conclusion as to whether pluralizing an abbreviation of an acronym is correct, but style guides tend to agree that it is generally okay to do so.

During further research, I found this example on the American Journal Experts webpage:

“Regarding pluralization, abbreviations should reflect the meaning you wish to convey.”
-American Journal Experts

In this case, the intent of the writer is valued above the accepted rules. It really depends on how a writer uses the ICCA acronym.

Usually, when we say ICCAs, we are probably trying to say this: “The International Championships of Collegiate A cappella.” We are, in effect, pluralizing the correct word as our intent, but by writing the ICCAs, the reader chooses to think we are pluralizing the A, which is not a word that has a plural form.

This is the main reason why we are split on whether or not the ICCA can have a plural form. Technically, when we use the acronym, we are using it as a noun and we are referring to the “C,” or championships.

A concrete piece of evidence, however, can be found in the nonfiction book Pitch Perfect by Mickey Rapkin:

“Now, back in competition with a near all-new roster of girls, could they return to the ICCAs and avenge their good name?”
-Pitch Perfect, pg. 14

Not only does Mickey Rapkin, senior editor at GQ magazine, use the pluralized acronym in the above quote, the term “ICCAs” appears 50 times within the book.

The book A cappella, by Deke Sharon, Brody McDonald, and Ben Spalding also uses the pluralized acronym 13 times.

To provide a contrary argument, take a look at Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A cappella, based on the dissertation by Dr. Joshua Duchan. In the 20 or so times that ICCA is mentioned, never once does he use the plural acronym, but he does mention it when quoting a contributor of RARB:

“…cause I haven’t heard their recordings or heard about them winning in ICCAs or anything.”
-Powerful Voices, pg. 177

Now I know what you’re thinking, and I agree: Just because a few people do it, does that make it right? If that argument were always true, I could hypothetically jump off a bridge and all you blog readers would say “Oh. I guess all bloggers should jump off bridges to emphatically prove their point.”

But the pedigree of the authors should count for something. I’m not saying that because they said it, it automatically means it is correct. But if they can do it and no one raises a big fuss, it should be okay to do it as well.

The case for no “S”

The way I see it, there are two main reasons why opponents of “ICCAs” have valid arguments:

1) The “A” in ICCA stands for a cappella, and a cappella has no plural form.

Think about other acronyms you have used in plural form before: VCRs, DVDs, UFOs…These work because the last letter in each acronym stands for an object that does have a plural form. Technically, if everyone wanted to have their cake and eat it too, the ICCA should be re-named the ICACs, or the International Collegiate A cappella Championships, which would allow the plural form to be justified.

2) They don’t want us to.

Okay. Full disclosure: When I set out to write this article, my goal was to prove that ICCAs was and is a viable plural abbreviation and when someone uses it, we should all calm down and let it happen.

But then, I proved myself wrong when I remembered another post I wrote almost 2 years ago: “2 p’s, 2 l’s, and no O.”

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan of a cappella. Unless you found this blog by mistake, which would explain my viewership over the last 5 years…

And if you’re a fan of a cappella, chances are you hate when people spell a cappella “A-C-A-P-E-L-L-A.” It’s a sore spot. It’s a pet peeve. We hate it because it doesn’t seem right.

However, groups, especially international groups, have continued to use the word “a capella,” and they have a good argument- when the word was first written, it was spelled “a capella,” not “a cappella,” because it was originally written by Renaissance composers and in Latin:

“The spelling capella is occasionally found; Giovanni Gabrieli marked sections for chorus alone “capella” and J.J. Fux referred to ‘Stilus a Capella.”
-Grove Dictionary of Music, A cappella

Just seeing that version of spelling makes my blood boil, and that’s the very point. The company that runs the ICCA, Varsity Vocals, is made up of very nice people. (I say that because it’s true and also because they all probably hate me right now) They have repeatedly asked in person and on social media to not use ICCAs:

“Your friendly reminder: It is ICCA, NOT ICCAs.”
-Emily Flanders, Facebook

Despite your belief in what is right and what is not, the employees of the company have asked you to not say ICCAs, and their opinions should matter.

The verdict:

In academic writing, the pluralized form of ICCA is probably fine to use, but there is no empirical evidence to suggest that ICCA can be pluralized, so don’t fight the powers that be. If you do use it, I doubt anyone is going to raise a fuss over your choice, but make sure you know what you are referring to, and who your readers are. Ask yourself these questions:

1) What’s the best way to phrase this sentence?
2) Do you ABSOLUTELY have to use “ICCAs?”
3) Will your readers hate you for doing so?

One final thing…

ICCA’s is totally incorrect. Acronyms cannot have possession of anything. No apostrophe. Ever.

Marc Silverberg

Follow the Quest For the A cappella Major:

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