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

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Thu Feb 6 12:43:33 AEST 2020

On Wed, Feb 5, 2020 at 5:23 PM Ed Carp <erc at pobox.com> wrote:

> Sex the UNIX way
> [...]
> # finger
> [...]

Perhaps I've sent this story to TUHS before, but I can't resist.  "finger:
the most inappropriately named command in computerdom" (no, that's not a

When I was in high school I was stealing, er, I mean, borrowing computer
time from the local university.  It wasn't quite as criminal as I make it
sound; I was decently well known around campus, folks tolerated my presence
admirably and as informal payment for the computer time, I did a lot of
unpaid sysadmin work.

Anyway, this was the early 90s and the university was starting to give
email accounts to pretty much everyone. What this meant was that there was
a server somewhere running sendmail that accepted incoming mail, and a POP3
server that you could connect to to download that mail. There were
self-service computer labs around campus connected to the university
network, and the `finger` service on the main campus machine was backed by
a database that responded to a crude, limited query syntax. Notably, you
could finger your own first and last name (in quotes) and get some data
about your account, including your login name (most of which were of the
form abc123 because ... university bureaucracy). However, the university
wasn't all that great about telling people any of this stuff...word had
gotten out that everyone had an email account, but not how to go about
getting your login information, etc. They certainly never mentioned the
"finger" command.

Of course, among the computer types, using 'finger' was par for the course.
"Hey, you going to be online later?" "Yeah, just finger me over at the math
department." Etc.

One day I was hanging around near the helpdesk when a young woman, a
graduate student, came in to ask about her account details. The student on
duty at the time, in a very helpful, cheerful voice said, "oh, that's easy!
Just finger yourself!" (Oh context, you are everything...).

Jaws dropped. Stunned silence ensued. The student working the helpdesk,
suddenly looking approximately like he might die, managed to awkwardly
stammer out something about "the the the finger command" and "I mean, uh,
I'm not saying that YOU should, like, you know... I mean, I don't mean
THAT...and, uh...I'm just making it worse, aren't I? Here, this will all
make so much more sense if I just show you what I mean. On the computer! I
mean...just let me type this thing...er, what's your name?"

The graduate student left a few minutes later with her login details. So
far as I know, no one got fired. In the end I think everyone had a good
laugh, grad student included.

        - Dan C.

On 2/5/20, Rob Pike <robpike at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Frodo (Ted Kowalski) told me it was originally spelled, and pronounced,
> > fuck, for good reason, but he soon realized it was going to be used by
> > others and changed one letter. It was just letters after that.
> >
> > -rob
> >
> >
> > On Thu, Feb 6, 2020 at 1:34 AM Clem cole <clemc at ccc.com> wrote:
> >
> >> FWIW. When it was written, Ted and I used pronounced it as “fisk”
> (rhymes
> >> with “disk”), but F. S. C. K. was always acceptable to my ears.  I admit
> >> I
> >> smiled one time when I heard some one call it “f-sick” but that was not
> >> considered the proper pronunciation.
> >>
> >> Sent from my PDP-7 Running UNIX V0 expect things to be almost but not
> >> quite.
> >>
> >> > On Feb 5, 2020, at 3:45 AM, arnold at skeeve.com wrote:
> >> >
> >> > "G. Branden Robinson" <g.branden.robinson at gmail.com> wrote:
> >> >
> >> >> 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.
> >> >
> >> > ISTR thinking of it and calling it e-d, along with r-m, l-n, m-v and
> >> > the other two-letter commands.
> >> >
> >> >> (And did people really say "dee-eye-tee-roff" for "ditroff"?)
> >> >
> >> > I did ... Although it's "groff" and not "g-roff". :-)
> >> >
> >> > FWIW,
> >> >
> >> > Arnold
> >>
> >
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