[TUHS] pronouncing *nix formulas (was: screen editors)

G. Branden Robinson g.branden.robinson at gmail.com
Wed Feb 5 06:14:56 AEST 2020

At 2020-02-04T09:40:18+0100, Sijmen J. Mulder wrote:
> markus schnalke <meillo at marmaro.de> wrote:
> > Wikipedia writes that `ed' would be pronounced ``ee-dee'' (like
> > ``vee-eye''), is that what you english speakers do?

Certainly not.  When one sees a command name that duplicates a
frequently-used diminituve of a common name, the brain is going to
select that preferentially.

Naming your Unix command "mike" and expecting people to pronounce it
"em-eye-kay-ee" is hopeless.

> Dutch speaker.
>   ed: Hi Ed
>   vi: C'est la vie

In English, thanks to the Great Vowel Shift and other developments that
differentiated vowel pronunciation from the continent a few hundred
years ago, trailing "I"s tend to be pronounced long (as in "eye")--but
they also tend to be rare.  They occur in proper names like Lodi,
California and Bondi, Australia (which Americans sometimes mis-pronounce
anyway, perhaps influenced by Spanish).  A word that looks borrowed from
Latin, Greek, or Spanish will often get back its "-ee" sound for a
trailing "i", but the two-letter command names beloved of the Unix
pioneers offer no etymological hints.

> Bonus:
>   chroot: shroot
> These may not be the proper pronunciations but I like the names best
> this way.

I had to teach myself Unix in the early days and so I wound up with some
idiolectal variants that people consider amusing or objectionable:

chroot: cheroot (like the cigar)
chown: rhymes with "clown"
chmod: rhymes with "god" or "scrod" (a kind of fish), and resists the
       introduction of a vowel into the leading consonant cluster as
       much as possible--it's an ugly one!
creat: Crete (hic Rhodus, hic salta!)
fuser: fuser (like the component of a laser printer--not "eff-user"; eff
groff: Groff (like the surname, not "jee-roff")
troff: trough (but nroff I pronounce the accepted way)

(And did people really say "dee-eye-tee-roff" for "ditroff"?)

There are a couple of others that I started out pronouncing in a
nonstandard way, but once I started attending conferences, I

Linux: originally "lye-nucks", now "linn-ucks"
Debian: originally "Dee-bee-un", now "Deb-ee-un"

I've heard many other newcomers make the same inferences I did in these
last two cases.

I would editorialize on the fetishization of terseness in textual
interface design[1], but I have to locate my APL typeball.


[1] A terseness that is hurled away with great enthusiasm by the
maintainers of many libraries written in C, who, facing an unanticipated
need, pile yet another damn parameter onto their hapless function calls.
Six, seven parameters?  Keep 'em coming.  Consistency of ordering
between commonly-used arguments in the same library?  Hell no!  Structs
and pointers to structs are only for getting yourself into trouble with.
Remember: always mistrust your compiler and copy a struct element by
element, and only use structure pointers for dangling reference
mischief, never to simplify your function calls.  Always prematurely
optimize except when spilling registers between stack frames on IA-32.
But be sure and -fomit-frame-pointer so your mess is even harder to
clean up!  Every register is precious except the ones you wasted on your
yard-long parameter list.

Guess I got an editorial in after all.
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