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Q. I’m working on some writing that mentions “SQL servers.” I’m wondering whether I should go with “this data is stored on an SQL server” or “a SQL server.” I happen to be aware that “SQL” is usually pronounced “sequel,” which would lead me to write “a SQL server.” However, I worry that anyone unfamiliar with the term would assume each letter is pronounced individually—and it is very likely that the language I’m working with will be seen by many who are unfamiliar with SQL. What do you recommend?
A. You could spell out the pronunciation of SQL at the first opportunity in the text—for example, “this data is stored on a SQL (pronounced ‘sequel’) server” (see also CMOS 10.3). Those who are unfamiliar with this pronunciation (from “Structured English Query Language,” or SEQUEL, the name first proposed in the early 1970s) will now be clued in; those who already say “sequel” will have their preference confirmed. But it should be noted that according to ANSI (the American National Standards Institute), the pronunciation of SQL is not a settled issue, and “ess-cue-el” is considered a legitimate option. So it’s not a bad idea to signal a preference regardless of your choice.
A note on the example: Though “data” is usually plural in scientific contexts—“these data are”—“data” is often used as a mass noun in computer-related writing. For example, this usage is allowed by the latest style guides published by Microsoft and Apple.