When Shortening “Synchronize,” Best Leave Off the “h”

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Computer users are often concerned with synchronizing their various programs and machines. The process is so common that the three-syllable word synchronize is usually shortened to its first syllable.

The one-syllable shortening has become so acceptable that both the OED and Merriam-Webster have entries for it. Both sync and synch are given as spellings, and a browser search indicates that both forms are in about equal use:

How to Synch Outlook …
How to Synch Google Calendar with a SmartPhone …
How to Sync Google Services With Your Mobile Device
How to sync an iPhone with two (or more) Computers
How to sync with .Mac and connected devices
How to synch new records between two tables ?

The spelling synch presents no difficulty of pronunciation to speakers who know the origin and pronunciation of the shortened word.

synchronize [(sĭng’krə-nīz’] c.1624, “to occur at the same time,” from Gk. synchronizein “be of the same time.”

However, while the spelling sync [sĭngk] preserves the sound of the first syllable of synchronize, the spelling synch suggests the pronunciation [(sĭnch].

Sounds of ch
The English spelling ch can represent three different sounds. The first and most common sound is the sound heard at both ends of church.

The second sound represented by ch is [k]. This spelling applies to words from the Greek, words like synchronize. However, the trouble with shortening the Greek word synchronize to synch is that the overwhelming (and pattern-forming) majority of one-syllable English words ending in ch are pronounced with the first sound of ch: each, itch, beach, coach, fetch, march, mulch, peach, porch, which. etc.

The pronunciation shift may have already begun
What provoked this post was a spelling I noticed in a scientific article on the topic of amino acids.

The writer makes the topic interesting by explaining chemical processes in popular terms. In one example he compares cells and proteins to words and letters. He postulates a game hosted by Regis Philbin (italics mine):

You can rotate each wheel at will and then press a button to see if the combination that you chose is one of the one million winning combinations. You can keep doing this until you give up.  You think that this game is a synch

The intended word is cinch [sĭnch], in the sense of “something easy to accomplish.”

I rest my case.

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21 thoughts on “When Shortening “Synchronize,” Best Leave Off the “h””

  1. I only encountered sync in technical jargon – electrical wiring diagrams, later in programming terms. Jargon regularly takes liberties with language – it starts out hidden from people that care about language, after all.

    The hazard is that jargon, lacking consensus and often used outside common grammar and/or spelling context, will be misunderstood and misused outside the originating community.

    I would put down the above example of misuse, synch for cinch, to careless reliance on software spelling checkers. It is possible, after all, that your gamy scientist recognized cinch as the strap passing under a horse to hold the saddle in place – and picked something else. (The word cinch has both meanings, the saddle strap and something easy to accomplish.)

    It is amazing, some times, that the world continues to communicate at all, when this engineer or that marketer or the Congressman over there keeps twisting the language, using inventions, and disregarding accepted standards and usage. I understand France has a cabinet-level government organization to manage changes to the language. I wonder if they find waiting for government rulings to answer questions any less confusing than our ad hoc discovery of changes in words and usage.

  2. The difficulty comes when you want to use the perfect tense. Does sync. (does it need a trailing period?) become synced? Or sync-ed? Not sure.

    The same problem comes with spec., short for specified or specification, exacerbated by the fact that spec. (the verb) has evolved slightly into its own meaning subtly different to specify.

    The system has already been spec-ed looks cumbersome, but it’s the only suitable alternative.

  3. Brad,

    The Académie Française, which is the organization which “manages” language change in French, is completely useless. Pretty much all they do is embody a certain kind of resistance against encroachment from English.

    The French aren’t “waiting” for governmental pronouncements about language questions. The French language develops and changes, like any non-dead language does. Then, months or years later, the Académie will come along and tell people they aren’t supposed to say what they are already saying.

    Every so often, they will issue “official” French words to use in place of the vulgar Anglicisms that people are already using, such as “machouillon” instead of “chewing-gum”. Of course, the average French person doesn’t change their vocabulary by decree, so their pronouncements are ignored except for official governmental documents.

    The strength and vitality of English is partly cultural and political, but it also derives from our joyous promiscuity in accepting words from any language and in English speakers creating new terminology with abandon and without any need for official stamps of approval.

    Having a body for language change control is definitely a Bad Idea, because it’s not only futile, it’s counter-productive.

  4. Dan,

    Considering sync as jargon, and not as a contraction, I haven’t seen it used (correctly) with a period.

    I have seen synced used, but another approach is sync’d, which would work with spec’d as well.


    If we can invent a “silent k” for majicked, why not specked – except that gets to looking like something got specks (of dirt or other minute mars to the finish) all over it. And that should be speckled. Except speckled seems more a finish with a mottled appearance. “The speckled eggs in the nest seemed so tiny!”

    Sync came from a hardware-oriented engineering discipline, so I am inclined to consider it more an invention than a contraction, and not subject to usual contraction usage. Spec, on the other hand, came from weasel-worded marketers and other esoteric document types.

    Spec, for me, is a contraction. If you get past the simple use, spell it out. The meanings of specified and specificationed converge, and I would consider specificationed to be poor usage in every case. I would also consider using anything but specified for that tense to be improper.

    My reference to hardware-based engineering terms is not about engineering disciplines, but about the plethora of terms that have been accepted will-he, nil-he, from electric and electronic disciplines. Transister, IC (integrated circuit), phase-locked loop, gnd or ground (an electric connection to an excepted, standard “not” voltage) used both as an electrical connection to a ground voltage potential and as that standard and shared potential, and clock – a regular series of signals that trigger operations at a regular pace. A clock would be a regular type of sync signal.

    We don’t find it extraordinary, today, to consider “light” to mean a light switch or a light bulb or light fixture, and only rarely consider light to be the energy we see coming from an activated light source. We don’t consider “light a candle” to be creating a source of light, but to start a candle burning.

    We regularly use volt (voltage) and amp (amperes) without worrying about contraction rules.

    DOS three letter filename extension rules (Thanks, Bill Gates! Not!) give us terms like DOC files and Adobe gives us PDF file formats. We get GIF (Graphical Interchange Format) and JPG (DOS’d short for JPEG), etc. I often see jpgs written where digital graphics or pictures are being referred to.

    Anyway, that is why I see sync as a tech term, and not a contraction. If I were using the synchronize, non-electrical meaning, I would not consider sync to be correct usage.

  5. Oh, and don’t forget alt and esc. Alt comes partly from keyboard usage, like esc (escape key), but also from the ALT text field of the image HTML tag. Many people creating web sites get to know about alt text as they address accessibility requirements.

    I just now encounter a popup on the Oklahoma State House of Representatives list of member,

    The top frame of the popup invites me to “Esc to close”. I am not sure that here closed is used as a word – or technical jargon, describing how to escape the current limited context (the popup window) and return to the page that invoked the popup. I doubt my Funk & Wagnalls would show that as the first meaning for “close”. If I had a Funk & Wagnalls. I just like the line from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. And yes, I do recall the original showing. But that is neither here nor there, just another in a stream of non-sequiturs. Or is it nons-sequitur?

  6. What a dumb conversation. A lot of words wasted. And to this last guy… “Esc to close”, is that really ambiguous at all? Unless you’re a complete moron, you would assume that using the *Esc* key would *close* the window. There is no other reasonable understanding of that phrase. Stop trying so hard to break everything down, go outside and get some sunshine. Embarrassing.

  7. Jesus, you pedants. Synch is simply incorrect because words in the English language that end with ‘ch’ are never pronounced with a ‘k’ sound. When words end with ‘ch’. they are always pronounced like sandwich or which, not like comic or sporadic. I realize it’s just pronunciation, but shortened versions of existing words are words in and of themselves, and should therefore be governed by the same rules. I don’t believe there are any other written exceptions to this rule, either.

    Also, you just had to consult the Oxford English Dictionary, which prefers sync (but recognizes both), so there 🙂

  8. As Dan mentions, I think the real problem with using ‘sync’ rather than ‘synch’ is when it becomes a verb. Whenever I see documentation talking about ‘having synced’ or ‘syncing’, it just looks strange, because that combination of the ‘c’ with the following vowel seems much more to suggest a ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard’ pronunciation (i.e. ‘sinsing’). On the other hand, ‘synched’ and ‘synching’ seem much clearer to me.

    It also seems to me (purely anecdotally) that the ‘sync’ spelling is more common in the computer world (in particular since Apple started with ‘iSync’) while ‘synch’ has been around for longer in the audio and television/film production worlds — for example, ‘I’ll have to synch to the original footage in the dub’ or ‘the picture and sound in the restored film are out-of-synch’.

  9. I prefer sync, too, just because it looks cleaner but have recently been startled by the choice of past participle. Someone speaking of a problem with his Blackberry last week: “I now have three of each event because I sunk it three times today.”

    It’s also common here in the UK to hear “I broke hard” during an account of a car accident; initially alarming, it’s just someone saying that he stood on the brake pedal.

  10. Nathan,
    Looks like I left out number three in my final draft:

    The third sound of ch is [sh] as heard in “recent” borrowings from French: chef, chamois, chic.

    What I’m referring to as the three sounds of ch are [ch], [k] and [sh]. English speakers, at least U.S. speakers, don’t usually try to get the German or Scots pronunciation of ch. I suppose the ch of Bach might be considered a “fourth” sound.

  11. “I understand France has a cabinet-level government organization to manage changes to the language. …”

    I am quite sure, if we were to let Washington DC “manage changes to the language” we would all cease to communicate, post-haste.

  12. I imagine sinh pronunciation is due to a series of whimsical (you would have to know a few mathematicians – I recall the head of the Math department at my college returning from a conference with a button that stated “My proctologist is a pain in the butt”) progressions.

    Sin – or sine, in the long form, is often deliberately mispronounced “sin” in the short form. So “sine in hyperbolic form” might be sinh, possibly “sin-h” or “sin-aitch” in pronunciation. That would quickly be corrupted to “sintch” for everyday use.

    The guys looking at hyperbolic sines sit right next to the guys that see a misprint in a science fiction convention schedule, and forever after dub folk singing in a science fiction environment as “filk” singing. One example that comes to mind is Leslie Fish’s “Carmen Miranda’s Ghost is Haunting Space Station Three” – a delightful little novelty ditty that resulted in a book, edited by Ester Friesner. The book is a collaboration, a collection of short stories from the science fiction author community, each written to the theme of Fish’s filk song. Esther Friesner, for those unfamiliar with her work, edited the “Chicks in Chain Mail”, “The Chick is in the Mail”, “Chicks and Chained Males” series of fantasy (sword and sorcery, mostly) stories. Well, there was “Whoops!” by Nancy Springer in Chicks in Chain Mail, that I really enjoyed, about a timid school teacher commuting on crowded LA freeways – and how annoyed her guardian angel got.

    And you were worried about getting sinh to sound like cinch. Hah!

  13. It looks as if “sync” is a more current version of the word to use. It implies a smooth connection such as “in snyc” with whatever it relates to. I have found some interesting tips like these at another good site fiveminutevacation.com

  14. In the Roman Alphabet, the voiceless velar fricative is represented by the ch digraph. However, most words containing a voiceless velar fricative in borrowee language have the voiceless velar fricative coverted into a voiceless velar plosive, due to English-speakers’ traditional inability to voice the appropriate pronunciation.

    Thus, in the english language,because the H in Synchronise no longer serves a purpose at all (the ch digraph being converted into a sound that can be represented solely by C), Sync would be more correct that Synch would if you’re following the rules established in the English language.

  15. When I see the spelling “synch” I hear the pronunciation as “cinch.” Same way I hear “mick” when I see a flyer that announces an “open mic” event.

    I realize that synch exists along with sync. I’ve also seen it spelled “sink.” Time will tell which spelling will become the standard, if any.

    Meanwhile, it would be nice if children were taught the rules and patterns of English orthography while they are in grade school.


  16. I don’t think one should rest his or her case on someone’s blatant misspelling and ignorance of an abbreviation. If one says the ‘Council of Trench’ when they mean ‘Council of Trent’, it makes little sense to throw up one’s hands and decide to start calling it the Council of Trench. It would be a much stronger argument to reason that because the ‘h’ is silent, it is best to go with ‘sync’. Granted I realise this is several years late, but the article still seems to bear relevance.

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