How do you pronounce ISO?

In our quest to understand the source material behind ISO standards, let’s start with the very basics: what do we mean when referencing ISO?

ISO is an acronym for the International Organization for Standardization. Contrary to popular understanding, “ISO” was never short for “International Standards Organization” or a similar sequence of words, even in an alternate language than English. Commonly, American practitioners will say that the long name of ISO translates into a phrase that can be abbreviated as “ISO” in the French language due to the location of the Central Secretariat, but the acronym would actually be “OIN,” short for “Organisation internationale de normalisation,” so that argument lacks validity.

And, if you want to argue the short name should be “IOS”– well, you will lose that battle too, as ISO has selectively registered “International Organization for Standardization” and the short name “ISO” as international trademarks while omitting registration of any other acronym variation.

If you are the type that spells out the acronym as I-S-O when talking about the entity or describing a standard like ISO 27001, the origins of the name will give you a clue on how to pronounce it. ISO is derived from the Greek “isos,” meaning equal. From here, it is plausible to think that the organization intended for the short name to be pronounced as a single word like “eye-so.”

ISO world headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

Let’s triple confirm. Here is a 10-second clip from the 2023 ISO Annual Meeting in Brisbane. This is Vanessa Von der Mühll, who has been Head of Communications and Engagement at ISO for the past 4 years.

Debunked? Buckle up.

From an interview published in 1997 with Willy Kuert, a Swiss delegate who had traveled to London in 1946 to attend the meetings that originally formed ISO, he details the following:

“The first question that had to be settled in London was that of the name of the new organization. There were different proposals. The English and the Americans wanted “International Standards Coordinating Association,” but we fought against the word “coordinating.” It was too limited. In the end, ISO was chosen. I think it is good; it is short. I recently read that the name ISO was chosen because “iso” is a Greek term meaning “equal.” There was no mention of that in London!”

And, it appears we are back to our starting point. We may never know the original intent of the name, as modern-day ISO seems to be romanticizing the importance of the short name selection. This is probably a case of picking the name because it sounded cool.

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