Phun Photo Phact: ISO – pronounced “EYE-so” or “eye-ess-oh”?

The Misconception:
What does “ISO” mean? Ask anyone seemingly “in-the-know” and they’ll tell you “ISO” is an initialism for “International Standards Organization” and thus it is pronounced “eye-ess-oh.” Sounds pretty convincing, but this is false.

Why This is Wrong:
There is no such thing as the “International Standards Organization.” Go ahead, Google it. It doesn’t exist. So then what does “ISO” stand for? Nothing. It’s not an initialism or an acronym.

Allow me to explain…

Here’s where the confusion comes from: although there isn’t an “International Standards Organization,” there is an “International Organization for Standardization.” The International Organization for Standardization is a corporation based in Geneva, Switzerland that sets all sorts of international standards for manufacturing and engineering, one of which is film sensitivity in photography. Their whole deal is getting the world on the same page with standard regulations, measurements, and certifications.

Then what is “ISO?” It’s this company’s name, that’s all. No different than “Pepsi” or “Honda.” But “ISO” obviously is not an initialism or acronym because the correct acronym (in English anyway) would be IOS. So then what does ISO mean? Well, it’s derived from the Greek root “isos,” which means “equal” – like in “isotope” and “isosceles.” And if you look at the website for the International Organization for Standardization, you’ll find an explanation on why they chose this Greek root instead of an acronym to represent their company (source: http://www.iso.org/iso/home/about.htm):

Because ‘International Organization for Standardization’ would have different acronyms in different languages (IOS in English, OIN in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), our founders decided to give it the short form ISO. ISO is derived from the Greek isos, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of our name is always ISO.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Truth:
So “ISO” is not an acronym. No doubt about that. It’s just a company’s logo written in all capital letters derived from the Greek root isos. And just like you wouldn’t spell out “PEPSI” every time you ordered one, you shouldn’t spell out “ISO” every time you talk about it. That’s why “ISO” is correctly pronounced “EYE-so.” No matter how many times you hear it pronounced “eye-ess-oh,” and even though everybody and their mother says it “eye-ess-oh,” it just simply isn’t correct. Doesn’t matter if a guy has been taking pictures for decades or working with ISO standards for 50 years, if he says it “eye-ess-oh,” he’s wrong.

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