Gears & Gadgets

You’re saying it wrong: How to say oft-mispronounced tech terms

Eye Oh Ess.
Enlarge / Eye Oh Ess.

Is it iOS “eye-oh-ess” or “eye-oss”? Is it Linux “Lie-nux” or “Lih-nux?” How about sudo: is it really “sue-doo” for “superuser, do!” or has the more popular “sue-doh” population won out? In this article, you’ll find the answers to each of those and several more—along with some perspectives on terms that aren’t so clear-cut.

Here’s the background: we invited our readers last week to share examples of common tech terms that people frequently pronounce incorrectly or of terms about which there is widespread disagreement regarding the correct pronunciation.

We gave a few examples that came up within the Ars team to get the conversation started and promised a follow-up wherein we’d research the correct pronunciation for each term—including both our examples and reader suggestions—and settle the score.

As promised, we read more than 450 comments, identified some interesting insights, added some new words to investigate, then looked into them. Below, you’ll find our verdicts on how to pronounce 14 controversial terms, usually sourced from either the creator of the thing the term refers to or the group or organization that currently maintains that thing. Most are definitive, but some are fuzzy. But we did our best to succinctly present the full case for each term.

Here we go.

iOS

Behind the scenes at Ars, how to pronounce Apple’s operating system was the impetus for pursuing this to begin with. It turned out that the great majority of reader responses gave the correct pronunciation: eye-oh-ess. But as on the Ars staff, there’s that tiny subset who insist on calling it eye-oss.

According to Apple, it’s eye-oh-ess. Here’s Steve Jobs calling it “eye-oh-ess” at his final WWDC in 2011. Apple execs called it the same in prior and later keynotes.

You might not care how Apple pronounces it, and that’s fine. But if we’re looking to settle the debate as objectively as possible: it’s eye-oh-ess.

Plus, if you want to know how Apple intends to pronounce some of its own product names, try turning on text-to-speech in the accessibility settings of macOS or iOS. You’ll likely get your answers. It doesn’t work as well for some non-Apple phrases listed below though, like Qi or Roku.

Verdict: “Eye-oh-ess”

sudo

Now for our first reader submission. From bennett_cg:

shocked that no one raised sudo—is it sue-doe or sue-due?

putty made a strong case based on what the Unix command is actually short for to begin with:

and yes sudo = sue-doo (superuser do)

people who say sue-doe are kind of missing the point.

But plenty—really, most—people instead say “sue-doh,” “sue-doe,” or however else you might spell that pronunciation. Per reader Boskone:

I think “soo-doh” has handily won that battle. I’ve met a lot of people who know it’s supposed to be “soo-doo”, but never met anyone who actually says it that way.:)

A small, informal forum survey on Linux.org found that 22.4 percent of forum-user respondents pronounce it “sue-due / sue-doo,” and 77.6 percent say “sue-dough / sue-doh.”

Unlike with trademarked brand names from companies like Apple, there is no official, definitive guideline on how to pronounce this one. Technically, you can call it whatever you want. But here’s some food for thought: Robert Coggeshall co-invented the sudo command, and he quite clearly calls it “sue-doo.” Which, per putty’s note, certainly makes sense.

Verdict: “Sue-doo”

Linux

We tossed this one out there as an initial example, and while it wasn’t one of the most discussed, much of the discussion that did occur revolved around the name of its creator, Linus Torvalds, in different regions and languages.

Fortunately, there’s a video interview out there of Torvalds clearing up both different pronunciations of his name, and the correct pronunciation of the Linux operating system’s name:

Linus Torvalds

So there you go. It’s “Lih-nux.”

Verdict: “Lih-nux”

/lib (and /bin)

Reader brandnewmath kicked this one off with the following comment:

Once met a guy who pronounced /lib as “libe”.

I know it’s short for ‘libraries’ so you can justify it, but it’s not like he pronounced /bin as “bine”.

cmacd confirmed pronunciation goes beyond just the one guy brandnewmath met:

Oh wow, just realized I absolutely do this. “libe” and “bin.” Can’t think of any explanation, and I’m not gonna stop, but now it’s gonna bother me.

Fritzr devised a reasonable defense of this apparent inconsistency:

but they ARE lib[raries]

libe is the obvious nickname.

/bin on the other hand is the bin you toss binaries in 😛

We spent so much time researching this one this week and we found… no conclusive answers. We didn’t find any examples of an absolute authority on this subject speaking up about it. For example, we pored over quite a bit of footage of Ken Thompson (who designed the Unix filesystem), but didn’t find an example of him speaking “lib” or “bin” out loud. If we ever find one, we’ll add it here—and we invite readers to bring any examples to our attention if they see them.

But sans that sort of evidence, we’re going to have to say that either pronunciation of /lib flies. And if that’s the case for lib, it’s got to be the case for /bin, too, oddly enough.

Verdict: Either “lib” or “libe” is fine; therefore, so is either “bin” or “bine,” technically, but no one seems to say the latter.

Mac OS X and iPhone X

We all know someone who says “Mac Oh-Ess Ten,” and we all know someone else who says “Mac Oh-Ess Ex.” The same goes for the iPhone X. Ask someone about the latest iPhone in late 2017 or much of 2018, and you’ll hear a whole lot of “iPhone Ex.” Cue the “iPhone Excess Max” jokes the next year.

People can and will call these things whatever they want to call them. Readers who responded last week were more divided on this one than they were by iOS. But you need only listen to Apple talking about its products to learn that there’s an intended pronunciation for each.

When unveiling Mac OS X at Macworld San Francisco in 2000, then-Apple-CEO Steve Jobs called it “Mac Oh Ess Ten.” Nearly two decades later, Tim Cook announced the first Face ID-equipped iPhone saying, “This is iPhone Ten.”

Apple has been consistent in its pronunciations for both since.

Verdict: “Mac Oh Ess Ten;” “Eye Fone Ten”

Roku

TVPaulD commented:

Roku. I have colleagues who work with the platform every day who call it “Rock-oo”

The streaming video platform is called Roh-koo, straight from the horse’s mouth. TVPaulD can take sweet solace in the knowledge that his coworkers are wrong.

Verdict: “Roh-koo”

SQL and MySQL

SQL might have been the initial example that produced the most back-and-forth discussion in the comments. In part, that’s because the story behind this one is a bit chaotic—but there are right and wrong answers, to a point.

Reader Powerlord wrote:

Bear in mind that SQL’s predecessor was Sequel, so it makes perfect sense to pronounce them the same way.

So… SQL is Sequel’s sequel.

lewax00 added:

SQL was originally called SEQUEL (changed due to a trademark conflict) – therefore “sequel” is correct.

lewax00 is correct about that history, though it’s also an acronym for “Structured Query Language.” Of course, SEQUEL was an acronym of sorts, too (“Structured English QUEry Language”). The plot thickens when you dig into the history among the technologists working with SQL. cthoqqua recalled:

As someone who was there back in the 90’s, SQL as “Sequel Server” was definitely a Microsoft-ism. We drank the cool-ade and had one way to pronounce it that was different from how IBM and Silicon Valley pronounced it. It was seen as a way to identify the server in discussion as the Microsoft version.

For MySQL, though, there’s actually an explanation of the proper pronunciation in the documentation (which SpeedingAnt pointed out in the comments, too). The documentation reads:

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.

Because of its “sequel” pre-trademark-conflict history and the fact that it’s a working acronym, we’re going to call SQL this way: either “ess-cue-ell” or “sequel” is equally correct. Since the MySQL documentation specifies, though, “My Ess Que Ell” is the technically correct pronunciation for MySQL. But either pronunciation is acceptable for that one, too.

TLDR; this one is a beautiful mess, and you can generally go where your heart takes you and feel okay about it—as long as you don’t call it squirrel.

Verdict: Either “Ess Cue Ell” or “Sequel” for SQL; “My Ess Cue Ell” for MySQL

Qi

In the comments on the previous article, Derek Kent ventured to clear up the pronunciation for both Qi and Huawei, as both originated from China. On Qi, he explained:

Qi is a reference to 氣 (it’s romanized, using pinyin, as Qi), which in Chinese philosophy is an energy or lifeforce, so the pronunciation uses the “Ch” sound for the “Q” and is “Chee” (also romanized as “Chi” in other systems).

SraCet accruately added:

Qi (“chee”) is also just the word for air. Like, “my car tire doesn’t have any air in it.”

Most readers who discussed the term said they pronounce it either as “Qi” or “Chee.” Andrewcw, though, said he treats it as an acronym:

Never thought of trying to pronounce Qi. I just say Q – I as separate letters.

The Qi standard is managed by a group called the Wireless Power Consortium, and it clarifies the pronunciation in the very first sentence of its information page on Qi. The page reads:

Qi (pronounced “chee”) is the world’s de facto wireless charging standard for providing 5-15 watts of power to small personal electronics.

It is indeed derived from the Mandarin word 气/氣, which can be translated into English as (among other things) air or vital energy.

Verdict: “Chee”

Huawei

Chinese smartphone-maker Huawei has been called one of the most mispronounced brand names in the world. Here’s more of the comment from Derek Kent. This part is about Huawei:

Huawei is the pinyin romanization of 華為, which (I’m surprised more isn’t made of this), could be translated as something like “For China” or “Chinese Way”… a little awkward to translate the 為. You’re kind of close with “Whaa-way”, but the sound should aspirate the “h” at the beginning (similar to “hat”), so it’s more like “Hwa-way” (Gwoyeu Romatzyh actually romanizes 華 as Hwa).

A few Chinese speakers have taken to platforms on the Internet to make that case for the subtle H sound. That said, though, Huawei has invested marketing dollars in fixing this pronunciation challenge in Western markets by advocating for “Wah-Way.” The company even commissioned an infographic outlining some of the most commonly mispronounced words in Ireland as a platform for getting that specific recommendation out there, and it has come up in various interviews, too. But then again, you can hear the H in marketing videos targeted at English-speaking customers.

Regardless, it’s definitely not “hoo-ah-why.”

Verdict: “Wah-way” is close enough for Western markets, according to the company

Ars Technica

GoodOnYaMate got a little meta and wrote:

Ars or Arse?

We’d like to believe most readers know this and those who indicate otherwise are largely trolling, but it’s not Arse Technica. Most of all, it is not “A.R.S. Technical.” (You wouldn’t know that from the dozens of PR pitches we get a day calling it that, though.)

Arz Tek-nih-kuh. There you have it. The name is Latin-derived for the “art of technology.”

Verdict: Arz Tek-nih-kuh

It’s not just spoken language

Commenter redtomato noted that this is a whole different discussion for those who are deaf. They wrote that there are disputes about which sign to use for certain tech vocabulary words in sign language, too. Here’s the comment:

I don’t have a very good tech vocab in sign language either so even when meeting other deaf people or sign language users, I struggle to sign what I’m talking about in tech.

I gather hearing geeks have similar issues when talking to non-geeks, as in the fine documentary the IT Crowd.

EDIT: there is a bit of a debate over the correct sign for ‘Server’ – some sign as in waiter (as in a restaurant), some sign it as in giver (as in a thing that gives out stuff), some sign it as in distributor (a more technical sign that glosses as distribute widely from a single point.)

The waiter sign is often used by less technical people as it’s a simple gloss of the English, but the distributor sign is used when seeking to demonstrate technical knowledge.

That’s it for now, but we may add more to this list in the future. Thank you to all the Ars readers who took part in an entertaining and enlightening discussion over the past week.

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