I hear about new technologies every day. Actually by “hear” I really mean “read,” since my usual sources for these kinds of things are blog posts, tweets, IMs and emails. Weeks or months can pass before I use this new term verbally. The problem is, until that happens, I’ve got a pronunciation in my head, and that pronunciation may not be right.
While we can’t ask the person who made up the word “tomato” how to pronounce it, the people who made up words like “Linux” and “SQL” are still around to give their opinions. Let’s see what they have to say.
This is largely settled. These days I usually hear “Linux” pronounced with a short i, but not long ago it wasn’t unusual to hear people pronouncing it with a long i, like the Peanuts character Linus with the s changed into an x. This makes perfect sense to an American English speaker who grew up on The Great Pumpkin, but it’s wrong.
Linus Torvalds named Linux after himself, and he clearly pronounces it with a short i. Here he is talking about his creation:
There are two camps: the ones who say “sequel” and others who say the letters “ess-cue-ell.” The SQL standard says it’s “ess-cue-ell” but I don’t think that’s the final word, considering its co-designer Donald Chamberlin favors “sequel.”
SQL actually began life as “SEQUEL” until a trademark dispute forced a name change. Also, “sequel” saves a syllable, which I find compelling. On the other hand, there’s a cutesiness to “sequel” that I’ve never fully warmed to.
Verdict: I suppose “sequel” it is, but I’ll include this quote from MySQL’s documentation:
The official way to pronounce ‘MySQL’ is ‘My Ess Que Ell’ (not ‘my sequel’), but we do not mind if you pronounce it as ‘my sequel’ or in some other localized way.
I thought this would be easy: people would either go with “ess-cue-lite” or “sequel-ite” depending on their SQL pronunciation preference. They have the same number of syllables so everybody’s happy, right? I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and found video of this database’s creator giving a talk. Turns out he uses neither! Listen here as he calls it “ess-cue-ell-ite”:
Verdict: I’m not about to add a 4th, awkward syllable, even if it’s “correct.” I’m sticking with “ess-cue-lite” which I think flows better than “sequel-ight.” Mistrial!
When I first read about Redis, I heard “ree-diss” in my head. The creator of Redis, “Antirez,” thinks otherwise:
Verdict: “red-iss,” though I still insist it needs a double-d to truly earn its short e (this is why there’s no question in my mind how to pronounce “Reddit“).
I tend to hear this one pronounced “jay-sahn,” yet Douglas Crockford, the guy who discovered and named my preferred data interchange format, pronounces it like the given name Jason. Hear him say it himself, several times:
Tim Berners-Lee did his initial work on the World Wide Web alone. By the time he was in a position to talk about it, he had inadvertently (and regretfully, I understand) saddled the WWW with an abbreviation with more syllables than the term it originally stood for. There was a doomed movement to promote “trip-dub” but the time I heard someone attempt to use it was a trip dud (it wasn’t me, honest). Supposedly “dub dub dub” made some traction in New Zealand but I’ve yet to hear it in the USA and don’t expect to. One of the less-appreciated innovations of “Web 2.0″ was the tendency to lose the “www” prefix in domain names altogether. Problem solved by pretending the problem doesn’t exist!
Verdict: Case dismissed
I’ve only encountered one person who ever had an issue with my favorite operating system’s pronunciation. She saw a drug reference I’m fairly certain wasn’t intended. I’m not alleging what substances were or weren’t involved at UC Berkeley in the 70s during the creation of BSD Unix, but my hunch is they were probably not the ones she was thinking of.
Verdict: 40 hours of community service
I’ve always called this Linux distribution “deb-ee-un” and their FAQ says I’m right (it’s a combination of “Debra” and “Ian,” the first names of the project founders). Still, I’ve heard this pronounced with two long e‘s, so it almost sounds like “deviant.”
The people at CompuServe who created this deathless graphics format in the 80s insisted on pronouncing it like the famous peanut butter brand. The OED says both hard and soft g pronunciations are correct, but I don’t know anyone who can call it “jiff” with a straight face.
Verdict: pronounced how it looks, of course, like the word “gift” without the t
Computer nerds have long had an affinity for cutesy “recursive” acronyms like GNU, PINE, WINE, PHP, YAML, etc. This graphics format started out as one: “PING” stood for “PING Is Not GIF”, and was pronounced “ping” (obviously). Officially “PNG” now stands for “Portable Network Graphics,” but it never lost its “ping” pronounciation. I’m not a fan of cutesy names, or of names that clash with existing terms (“ping” being the name of a network tool that is probably older than you, as well as Apple’s ill-fated music social network), so I lean toward “pee-en-jee.” I actually lean so far in that direction, I could fall asleep. And yet…
Verdict: “ping” is guilty of cutsiness and duplicity, but we can still call it “ping”