An over-complexity worthy of an ISO standard

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/03/26 07:01 -04:00, original URI:

Mark Davis noticed something amiss:

As I recall, ISO said that they were not going to reuse codes for 50 years.
But BQ has just been reused, and I don't think it has been 50 years since it
had the old meaning.


Some might remember the crazy time of the "CS which was Czechoslovakia and then Serbia and Montenegro" reassignment debacle.

The idea of "we won't reuse for 50 years" sounded vaguely familiar to me, too.

Though to be honest it sounded way too easy for the rules of an ISO standard!

And indeed it would have been. If you look at the second article aboute the ISO-3166-1 alpha-2 codes, you will see a framework worthy of an ISO standard!

Basically, there are some "reserved" elements:

Reserved code elements are codes which have become obsolete, or are required in order to enable a particular user application of the standard but do not qualify for inclusion in ISO 3166-1. To avoid transitional application problems and to aid users who require specific additional code elements for the functioning of their coding systems, the ISO 3166/MA, when justified, reserves these codes which it undertakes not to use for other than specified purposes during a limited or indeterminate period of time. The reserved alpha-2 codes can be divided into the following four categories: exceptional reservations, transitional reservations, indeterminate reservations, and codes currently agreed not to use.

So there you go, four categories of reserved:

And of course a mechanism to represent formerly deleted codes which may then be reassigned  in ISO-639-3.

So that the historical info is held onto in a way that they believe is acceptable even though it freaks all of us out a bit.

Like I said, worthy of an ISO standard!

A little of the CS mess is covered by me in blogs like My aren't we looking quite Bosnianesque? and {Insert a pun about the word Serbian here, I can't think of one}. I am sure there are people in Microsoft who weondered what tehy got themselves into by using RFC 1766RFC 3066BCP-47 tags for their locale names. Both for self-caused CHS/CHT vs hant/hans issues and for ISO-caused problems like the CS debacle.

One day we may even miss LCIDs (some people aren't even aware that LCIDs suck, yet!)....

Doug Ewell on 28 Mar 2011 7:12 AM:

BQ was never a BCP 47 subtag, having been withdrawn from ISO 3166 in 1979, long before the January 1995 (= RFC 1766) cutoff point. Thus Microsoft hasn't "got themselves into" anything by using BCP 47 tags.

Doug Ewell on 29 Mar 2011 12:16 PM:

That said, it escapes me why ISO 3166/MA would choose *any* previously used code element. BC, BK, and BP seem no less mnemonic than BQ for "Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba," and the MA has already said (repeatedly) that no promises of mnemonic value are made for the alpha-2 code elements anyway.

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