Mike vs. Mic: Which Abbreviation is Correct?

It’s a familiar dilemma to those of us who write about audio: What’s the abbreviation for microphone, “mike” or “mic”?

For years (since roughly 1961, in fact), the former abbreviation – “mic” – has been the preferred choice of the pro audio industry.

This does lead to problems, however. When you place a “mic” in front of an amp, is the amp “miced”? Or “miked”? Or (horrors!) “mic’d”? The abbreviation simply refuses to comply with standard English rules for spelling and pronunciation (or common sense, for that matter).

What IS the correct abbreviation for microphone, anyway?

History Points Towards “Mike”

The earliest known abbreviation for microphone dates back to the 1920’s and in that instance was written as “mike”. This held true for several decades until 1961 when Al Berkman recorded the usage of “mic” in his “Singers’ Glossary of Show Business Jargon.”

From that time onward, mic began to garner a steady following. The reason for this shift is often attributed to the fact that when abbreviated on the equipment itself, microphone is written as “mic”.

“Mic” Gets the Nod For Now

In 2010, the New York Times weighed in on this venerable debate.

Ben Zimmer, in an “On Language” column, ceded defeat (more or less) to the forces in the pro-audio and production industry that have long preferred the abbreviation “mic.”

But he does so under duress.

While he concedes that “mic” is acceptable as a noun (if we ignore the logical tendency to pronounce it “mick”), once the word becomes a verb, we’re plunged into a world of  sloppy tense forms.

For example, what should readers make of the rodent-esque terms “miced” or “micing”, which clearly dictate a soft “C” sound and a long “I”?

The AP Saves the Day (Sort Of)

The Associated Press, in a unilateral decision in 2010,  sidestepped that  problem by allowing the past tense form “miked”, and the continuous tense form “miking”. But then, of course, we’re left with a glaring inconsistency in spelling between the noun and verb.

Public opinion (as gleaned from Google search results), at any rate, seems to be firmly in the “mic” camp.

But the argument is far from over. Samuel Bayer (also cited in Zimmer’s column)  makes a strong case for “mike” in this well-researched and entertaining blog post.

But in my eyes, the approved AP spelling (and its verb-form compromise) seems the best solution to the conundrum as you’ll see reflected across the AudioLinks website.