Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

I’ve mentioned before that I ‘suffer’ from xkcd 386. I’m trying to improve, and maybe writing this post will help me. If it helps you, that’s awesome too. Let’s work on this together. 🀝

There’s a strong prevalence among some in the Linux community for people correcting others. Specifically correcting pronunciation. I have been guilty of this in the past, but I’m trying to be the change I want to be. It’s a struggle!

Some pronounce ‘Linux’ (the kernel) as ‘Lie-nucks’ and others say ‘Li-nucks’. Similarly many pronounce ‘Ubuntu’ (the Linux distribution) as ‘ooh-bun-too’ whereas the official pronunciation is ‘oo-boon-too’, but I’ve also heard ‘yoo-bun-too’ too. It goes further, some prefer to pronounce the hard ‘G’ in ‘GNOME’ (the desktop environment) as ‘guh-nome’ whereas others prounce it with a silent ‘g’ like a common garden ’nome’. There’s countless examples.

I angry-tweeted about this a year ago, but we clearly need to spread the good word a little wider.

I can totally understand a scenario when meeting a new person, or talking to someone about a new product or service for the first time, people often ‘mis-pronounce’ things. Something like this hypothetical conversation might happen:

Alan: Hey, have you tried JingoJazz?

Mark: Do you mean gingerjass?

Alan: Oh, is that how it’s pronounced?

Mark: Yeah

Alan: Oh, okay, anyway, have you tried it?

That’s pretty normal in my mind. Someone who has only ever seen a product name written down might make a guess at how to pronounce it based on past experience. But if the product originated in another land where they speak another language, it’s not unusual for non-natives to get it ‘wrong’. Additionally some project leaders just decide to choose obtuse and unexpected pronunciations for their products, as is their right.

I have certainly been guilty of the ‘Do you mean..’ to suggest an alternative pronunciation to someone I’m chatting to. Sometimes it’s done in jest - ‘Don’t you mean jif’, or ‘I think you mean fewer’ (as opposed to ‘less’) and so on. Other times it’s a reflex, and it’s not especially useful to the conversation or either person. Sometimes it can be educational, instructive to the other party, but I find that’s quite rare these days.

My problem is the relentless need for people to repeatedly ‘correct’ others like this. The ‘Actually, it’s…’ to belittle you when they ‘correct’ you is the worst. It’s stupid, bullshit behaviour and should stop. There’s an argument that suggests you’re being disrespectful to a project by ‘mispronouncing’ it. That too is stupid bullshit. As seen by the tweet above, the GNOME project leadership clearly said they don’t care. It’s not like those projects are going around policing it, so why are you?

What I find deeply irritating is the Linux Internet Pronunciation Strike Force (as I have come to call them) will repeatedly do this, while mispronouncing other brands and product names themselves! Hypocrites! The canonical examples I usually test these people with are ‘Nokia’ & ‘Nike’. It largely doesn’t matter if you say ‘Noh-keeya’, ‘Nok-ya’ or ‘Noh-kyuh’ because in context you’re probably talking about a cellphone. Similarly the way ‘Nike’ is pronounced differently each side of the Atlantic Ocean, but in context you’re likely talking about sports shoes.

If someone talks about a Nokia phone they’re exited about, only to be stopped mid-track to be ‘corrected’ by a pedant, that can really suck the air out of the room. Everyone knows in-context what they’re discussing. It’s not necessary to correct people all the time. You might get a kick out of it, but frankly, you look like a dick when you do it. I know, I have done it.

I used to get irrationally annoyed by people ‘mispronouncing’ the word ‘ask’ as ‘ax’. It’s a super-short word, how can this be so hard to get ‘wrong’β€½ I mentioned this online recently and then got schooled with a ‘Well, actually..’, so I did a tiny bit of research. This was a great learning point for me.

Similarly my jovial ‘I think you mean fewer’ led me to watching There’s Nothing Wrong With Saying “10 Items or Less”: Descriptivism vs Prescriptivism by Tom Scott. I’m still learning.

We humans use language and speech to communicate, convey meaning, tell stories and collaborate. That language evolves over time, both within a lifetime, and at a larger scale too. People pronounce things the way they like, and what’s most comfortable for them. With such a short time on this planet, we shouldn’t waste it with unnecessary pedantry. Can we please accept these facts. Let’s stop policing pronunciation, and foster a more welcoming community by discussing without ridicule.

If I slip up, feel free to point me at this blog post. Sorry.

I’m doing my part!