The question that the title alludes to must be one of the most infrequently asked questions in the world of semantic web. The reason why Web Ontology Language is called OWL and not WOL is buried in the archives of Internet:
From: tim finin
Date: Thu, 27 Dec 2001 10:33:05 -0500
Jim Hendler wrote:
> WOW-G – I thought we had pretty much reached consensus on WOL but
> Dieter is right that Peter has been using SWOL and some other folks
> are imitating that. I think the consensus had focused more on WOL —
> if others disagree, please let me know – I have been using WOL on
> Coordination Group email, and haven’t heard any problems with that.
> We do need to reach consensus on this soon (and also start working on
> a Logo – Dieter is right about that as well)
I prefer the three letter WOL to the longer SWOL. How about OWL
as a variation. The words would be the same (Ontology Web Language)
but it has several advantages: (1) it has just one obvious pronunciation
which is easy on the ear; (2) it opens up great opportunities for logos;
(3) owls are associated with wisdom; (4) it has an interesting back story.
OWL has probably been used for many computer languages and projects (see
below), but I don’t think that is a show stopper.
The back story: Bill Martin was an active member of the MIT AI lab in
the 60’s, completing a PhD in 1967. He was subsequently hired as an
assistant professor at MIT and mentored many other early AI people until
his untimely death in the mid 70’s. One of the last big projects he
led was one to develop OWL, which stood for “One World Language”. I can’t
find any links to info about it on the web, but I clearly remember the idea,
which at the time I thought ridiculously ambitions. OWL was a simple KR language
(based on semantic networks and frames, I think) intended to be
an ontology of concepts which could be used to encode the meaning of almost any
natural language text. It was like Roger Shank’s Conceptual Dependency, but
instead of having dozens of concepts (ptrans, atrans, etc.), it had thousands.
It also borrowed from work on linguistic case frames, but instead of
envisioning a handful of cases (subject, object, instrument, time),
it proposed hundreds. OWL is arguably the first articulation of a project
to develop a KR language and associated ontology which was intended to be
a universal language for encoding meaning for computers.