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PostPoints tip: "Mac" is not an acronym (unless it is)

It happens about once a week: a reader sends in an otherwise sensible query about computers choices in which he or she feels compelled to write "Mac" in all capital letters. The following advice may be more of a rant than a tip, but in any case--don't do that. When you're talking about Apple's laptops and desktops, "Mac" doesn't stand for anything but "Macintosh" and therefore has no business appearing in all-caps as if it were an acronym. Using "MAC" instead of "Mac" will only suggest that you're a little new to that computing system.

Plus, there's already a real "MAC" acronym used in computing. It stands for "Media Access Control" and refers to the alphanumeric identifier, or "MAC address," coded into every networking device. (For example, the Mac I'm typing this on has a MAC address of "d4:9a:20:58:cd:6f" assigned to its wireless-networking receiver; the Windows laptop to its right has a different MAC address for its WiFi hardware.) So, please, give your Caps Lock key a break when discussing Apple's computers... or most other topics, come to think of it.

(What's this "PostPoints tip" business about? Since July, I've been archiving each tip-of-the-week e-mail we send to PostPoints members under this blog's "Tips" category. Today's item went out on Oct. 12.)

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 18, 2010; 6:57 AM ET
Categories:  Tips  
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The man has run out of topics. Somebody put this thing out of its misery.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | October 18, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I thought MAC was an acronym for "Mega-Awesome Computer."

Posted by: jobro1 | October 18, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Since you're nit-picking, a MAC address is technically not alphanumeric, which would infer that it uses all 10 digits and 26 letters. It's hexadecimal, or base-16, which uses 0 through 1 and A through F to count to 16.

Posted by: hpine | October 18, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you Rob, it drives me nuts when I see the all caps. And I can't stop myself from telling whomever did it that it is not correct.

Posted by: jtsw | October 18, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

On a related point: remember when acronyms separated each letter with a '.' (period) so that there would be no confusion at all that it was, indeed, an acronym?

I guess we're in too big a rush these to write unambiguously. Those periods just slow us down.

Posted by: BoteMan | October 18, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

To hpine: just getting into the spirit here, and offering what might be called a meta-nitpick: an alphanumeric string or address would *imply* the use of 10 digits and 26 letters, not *infer* it. "Imply" and "infer" are really opposites, looked at in a certain way.

Other than that you're quite right, of course --

Posted by: mjohnston1 | October 18, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

I will have to agree with this common misconception.

Invariably when I tell someone to determine their MAC address, I will get someone who quips back "I use a PC, not a Mac".

At this point, I wish there was a virtual hand connected to all PCs that one could activate to slap its user upside the head.

Posted by: Annorax | October 19, 2010 7:49 AM | Report abuse

This reminds me of when I was learning to memorize that particular acronym. I eventually read it BACKWARDS; as in, "The M.A.C. address Controls Access to the Media." I simply could not remember "Media Access Control"

Posted by: nbahn | October 19, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

To mjohnston1: Since technicality seems to be in play here, I would say it is technically a fallacy to '*imply*' someone is wrong when ultimately your statement summed up to be false. Two wrongs don't make a right. Imply is actually a synonym, replacement, substitute, or alternative to infer. In other words, imply and infer are closer in meaning and are not opposites (antonyms).

hpine is absolutely not wrong to use “infer” neither are you with “imply” and yes MAC address refers to the unique hexadecimal (base 16, 0-9 and A-F) identity given to a network device. Of course there are technical faults with my comments as well but that's someone else' problem

Posted by: earaddar | October 20, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

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