Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

From Wikipedia

Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a set of rules for encoding documents in machine-readable form. It is defined in the XML 1.0 Specification[4] produced by the W3C, and several other related specifications, all gratis open standards.[5]

What are the historical reasons for calling the shorthand XML rather then the more natural EML?

share|improve this question
    
As per subjective vote, I've adjusted the question to put emphasis on the historical reasons for choosing the name XML. –  Raynos Jun 30 '11 at 10:38
11  
If it was EML someone would be asking why not XML. –  M.Sameer Jun 30 '11 at 11:37
    
You would have to ask James Clark. He's the guy who coined it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clark_(XML_expert) –  Joel Etherton Jun 30 '11 at 14:08
    
Wasn't "EML" already a file format used by Microsoft Outlook? –  user16764 Jun 30 '11 at 15:42
    
@Joel, the closing parenthesis did not become part of the URL. Consider using %29 instead. –  user1249 Jul 4 '11 at 13:56

7 Answers 7

up vote 54 down vote accepted

I took a very pleasant tour through w3c, google and wikipedia and finally found the answer: an annotated XML spec where we find an excerpt of an email from the inventor of the name, James Clark, an Email from chairman Jon Bosak who suggested to use the X letter, some other ideas for names and the final votes:

Votes   Acronym Full Name
5   XML Extensible Markup Language
4   MAGMA   Minimal Architecture for Generalized Markup Applications
3   SLIM    Structured Language for Internet Markup
1   MGML    Minimal Generalized Markup Language

I think, Jon Bosaks reply to James Clarks suggestion, to name it "Extensible Markup Language" gave birth to the acronym:

In my opinion, the U-combinations won't fly, but if we allow "X" to stand for "extensible", then I could live with (and even come to love) XML as an acronym for "extensible markup language", and I hereby now throw it into the list of current proposals.


Some bonus - from some old reports of the XML Special Interest Group, that I found while looking for some original quote that could answer the question:

M.15 Should the spec refer to XML as "The Extensible Markup Language" or as "Extensible Markup Language" without a definite article (e.g. in the first sentence)?

The WG elected to give no guidance to the editors on this issue (in the full expectation that the result would depend on which editor touched the file last).

Rationale: after several minutes' discussion and increasing hilarity, no consensus had been reached, but the end of the allotted time for the conference call had.

share|improve this answer
7  
Really? I kinda like MAGMA. Pity it lost. Also, +1 for digging and finding that email where the discussion originated!! –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 30 '11 at 14:22
2  
Very nice detective work! Good to see the other options, and interesting they didn't even consider EML. –  Hugo Jun 30 '11 at 16:14
    
FWFD - I agree. MAGMA's kinda cool. –  Shauna Jun 30 '11 at 18:51
    
XML was a product of the mid-nineties, when seemingly everything had to be "extreme"... –  Matt Peterson Jun 30 '11 at 20:19

Because "X" is just so much cooler than "E".

Also presumably to avoid confusion with things like Extensible ML.

share|improve this answer
    
Did Extensible ML exist before XML? –  Raynos Jun 30 '11 at 10:36
2  
I'm not sure. EML seems to have pre-deceased XML on the internet. ML, which EML is based on, dates from the seventies, so it's entirely possible. Then again, SGML, which XML is a subset of, has even earlier roots. –  Scott Jun 30 '11 at 10:45
    
That is similar to the aspx acronym, except that in XML, the x stands for something. –  StuperUser Jun 30 '11 at 10:45
2  
The earliest reference I see to "Extensible ML" is a 1999 paper, whereas the first draft of XML was in 1996. However, "Extended ML" is earlier and I found it abbreviated to EML in 1991. –  Hugo Jun 30 '11 at 11:02
    
Now @Andreas_D has provided the definitive answer, it's interesting to see they didn't even consider EML. –  Hugo Jun 30 '11 at 16:18

From the book Computers & Society

The X in XML

"XML is both a boon and a threat to the web dream."

The X in XML stands for eXtensible. This signifies that XML is open. It is open in the sense that it allows growth. Note that the abbreviation is XML and not EML. There is something daring, attractive, exciting about that X. X stands for many things, depending on the culture of the society in which it appears! The two most obvious things denoted are

  • X-rated stuff: films, books... intended for adults only!
  • X-roads: where choices in direction can be made.

Since the X in XML is pronounced "ex" and may sometimes even be written that way, then we have an opportunity of charting other potential meanings. For example, to say that "she is his ex" implies something in the past. This is not the intention of the X in XML. But we can make it so. We can think of XML poetically as X-ML to refer to the SGML that preceded it.

And we can use exactly the same interpretation for XHTML.

share|improve this answer
2  
Although nice, that's mere speculation and humour. –  Raynos Jun 30 '11 at 10:43
    
True. I couldn't find any definitive answers, and found similar answers in other XML books. I don't see any relevant use of EML before XML. –  Hugo Jun 30 '11 at 10:52
    
The earliest reference I see to "Extensible ML" is a 1999 paper, whereas the first draft of XML was in 1996. However, "Extended ML" is earlier and I found it abbreviated to EML in 1991. So perhaps EML was really 'taken' so they used XML instead. –  Hugo Jun 30 '11 at 11:03

This is a question that maybe is better asked on http://english.stackexchange.com, generally, the english speaking world tends to use the X creatively, like X as 'cross' as in X-ing. In this case, it seems, 'X' represents the first Syllable ('eeeks'), not the first letter.

share|improve this answer

Speculating on the answer given by Andreas_D:

but if we allow "X" to stand for "extensible"

Notice that it seems like there's a bit of reverse engineering of the acronym here... we've got an X, what should it stand for??

It strikes me that eXtreme sports, the X games, etc were all very popular around 1995 and that the X in XML is probably a play towards that. Maybe someone hoped for eXtreme Markup Language?

share|improve this answer

I've always thought of the X in XML as indicating that you can make any kind of markup language you want with XML. Back when it was new, that was one of the biggest things everyone talked about.

share|improve this answer
    
How does X indicate that I can make other languages with this one, any more than, say, Q or J? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 30 '11 at 14:23
1  
Because 'X' used in this context can be shorthand for 'fill in the blank.' A variable, as it were. –  Robert S. Jun 30 '11 at 14:36
    
There are many other letters that can be used as variables besides X. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 30 '11 at 14:45
1  
Yeah, so? That's not the norm outside of mathematics. X has been used to define the unknown for quite some time. Other letters, not so much. C.f. X-ray, Generation X, etc. –  Robert S. Jun 30 '11 at 15:30
2  
X-ray is a good example: "In the paper he [discover Wilhelm Röntgen] admitted that he did not know the precise nature of these new rays. He chose to name them "X-rays," since "X" is the mathematical symbol for the unknown." discoveriesinmedicine.com/To-Z/X-ray.html –  Hugo Jun 30 '11 at 16:23

X is pronounced ex, and it's fairly common in acronyms to use X for words starting with ex-.

This would be better asked on English.SE

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.