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LIN-ucks or LEEN-ucks?

Pronunciation of Free Software Names

  • July 12, 2006
  • By Jem Matzan

Ever see a free software program or GNU/Linux distribution that you have to guess how to pronounce? Ever hear your friends or fellow LUG members argue over how to properly say "Ubuntu" or "Liferea?" Perhaps even GNU/Linux itself (guh-NOO LIN-ucks) gives you pronunciation nightmares. Since free software developers communicate primarily through email and Web sites, you can use one of their programs for years without ever knowing how to pronounce it. Here's a phonetic guide to nine of the most common unpronounceable free software project and software company names.

Operating Systems

SUSE: Novell's GNU/Linux distribution is famous for being easy to use and hard to pronounce. I won't go into the myriad ways to butcher this name -- I'll just tell you how the company says it: SOO-suh.

Ubuntu: If this were an English word, we'd probably say oo-BUN-too -- and many do pronounce it that way, even if it's wrong. Marlize Coetzee of Ubuntu's parent company, Canonical, says: "Ubuntu, an African word from Zulu and Xhosa, is pronounced 'oo-BOON-too.'"

Solaris: Having gone open source via the OpenSolaris project, Solaris has entered the same realm as GNU/Linux and BSD. But how do you pronounce it? In interviews with Sun employees and Solaris-using sysadmins, I've heard at least three distinctive pronunciations. The final word on the matter comes from Sun Microsystems representative Liza Curran, who told me that the official pronunciation is so-LARE-us.

Debian: If you weren't aware of the etymology of the name of this famous metadistribution, you might think it was some obscure Italian or Spanish word. Debian's true origin is far less exotic, however -- it's a conglomerate of two names: Deb and Ian. That makes the pronunciation fairly straightforward: DEB-ee-un.

Mandriva: When it was Mandrake, it was easy to pronounce. Then Mandrakesoft merged with two distributions that had much less intuitive names for English speakers: Conectiva and Lycoris. These mergers plus a lawsuit from another French company that claimed to have domain over the Mandrake name caused Mandrakesoft to become the far less tongue-friendly Mandriva. It's pronounced thusly: man-DREE-vah (Mandriva also provides an MP3 of the name if you'd prefer to hear it for yourself).

Desktop Programs and Utilities

Azureus: While there has been some debate over how this indispensable Java-based BitTorrent client should be pronounced, a representative of the Azureus team made this wiki entry in response to my question. In his reply, he stressed that there is no official pronunciation, but the recommended way to say "Azureus" is: uh-ZOO-ree-us.

Liferea: This popular RSS reader's name is a real mouthful when you consider its origins: LInux FEed REAder. Project leader Lars Lindner had this to say about it: "When I created the name, I tried to find a reasonable abbreviation and also a unique name. When I, as a German, read the word 'Liferea' I speak it like 'lee-fer-rejah' (ed. note: in German, j has a soft sound, like y) pronounced on the first syllable. But I assume a lot of the English native speakers use a totally different pronunciation. So there is no real official pronunciation."

LyX: While this powerful document processor may work with LaTeX, it isn't cursed with the same sandpaper-on-the-throat phoneme on the end. Unfortunately, there has been so much heated debate over how LyX should be pronounced that there is officially no standard pronunciation.

Qt: If you're anything like me, you're probably inclined to pronounce TrollTech's dual-licensed graphics toolkit by its letters: queue TEE. After all, don't you usually spell out Qt's GNU rival, GTK, when you have to say it aloud? TrollTech disagrees, however -- representatives from the company say it is pronounced like the word cute.

Jem Matzan is an experienced electronics technician, freelance technology journalist, and the editor-in-chief of The Jem Report, Hardware in Review and Software in Review.

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