Monday, October 3, 2011

NEMA, oops I mean NMEA

Language is a wonderful and changeable thing.  Acronyms, and our attempts to pronounce them can bring about decidedly weird effects, so today we are discussing the National Marine Electronics Association, or in its acronym form NMEA. This is not to be confused with NEMA, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the National Emergency Management Association, or even the New England Multihull Association.

Somehow over linguistic time, the acronym NMEA has ended up being universally pronounced, such as acronyms can ever be pronounced, as Nee ma. This verbal utterance has become so pervasive, that the marine populous, has actually changed the spelling of the acronym NMEA to NEMA to reflect how we actually say the acronym. If you search "NEMA 0183" -NMEA, Google finds over 24,000 references. I did some snipping off the web of examples, and noted that even the Installer himself has screwed this up at times, and boy I'm not alone. I have purposely not changed it as a personal reminder to myself. 

The rate of change from NMEA, to NEMA has been increasing rapidly over time. There are a few references in the eighties, even more in the nineties, and in this decade using NEMA in place of NMEA is almost common place.

So there are are three options available, do nothing, and continue to pronounce NMEA as Knee ma, change the name of the National Marine Electronics Association to the National  Electronics Marine Association, or change the way we pronounce it to "NA Me Ah.  My vote is to be diligent about spelling it correctly, and to continue to pronounce it Knee ma, or Knee maw if you live in the south. Tomato, tomahto, potato, potahto. Nmea, (it is a word, sort of) that is a cool electronics network on your boat bro.

By the way this was all triggered by attending the NMEA conference on Sanibel Island (almost). I am just about done with the piece. 

The photo above was taken by Canadian Phil Boisse.


  1. I've been an electrical engineer for 30 years and thus have been aware of NEMA and it’s common pronunciation “knee ma” that has been around since before my time. When I got involved with NMEA I asked myself how do I pronounce NMEA with confusing myself and everyone around me. I settled on “enemy aye”. Once you train yourself to say it, it rolls off your tongue. In spite of the unfortunate circumstance that the first three letters form the word “enemy”, I encourage all NMEA users to adopt this pronunciation as it clearly distinguishes NMEA from NEMA.
    -Mic, Waveguide Marine Electronics, Seattle

  2. I like it, in a strange sort of way. It gets you to the same place. Thanks Bill

  3. I've been saying NaMEa since I was hotwiring my laptop to the tugs Loran to run charting software.

  4. There is a certain irony to the line in the post:
    "changed the spelling of the acronym MNEA to NEMA"

    Nothing like having a misspelling of the acronym you are having a (well deserved) rant about.

    1. Thanks Anon, I'm my own worst editor despite the effort.


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