It’s odd, that GNU is mentioned several times throughout the article but its name never explained. It is too well-known to explain? I’m afraid, it’s not anymore among younger generations, unfortunately.
And I nominate it for a clear winner of ‘bizarre name’ contest: it’s a name of a animal (like Python), wordplay acronym (like KDE) and how-the-hell-to-pronounce-it-word (like SQL) rolled into one.
Anyway, nobody will explain it better than Dr. Richard Stallman himself, so here is an excerpt from his talk :
| So all we had to do to start work was find a name for the system. Now, we hackers always look for a funny or naughty name for a program, because thinking of people being amused by the name is half the fun of writing the program. [Laughter] And we had a tradition of recursive acronyms, to say that the program that you're writing is similar to some existing program. You can give it a recursive acronym name which says: this one's not the other. So, for instance, there were many Tico text editors in the '60's and '70's, and they were generally called something-or-other Tico. Then one clever hacker called his Tint, for Tint Is Not Tico -- the first recursive acronym. In 1975, I developed the first Emacs text editor, and there were many imitations of Emacs, and a lot of them were called something-or-other Emacs, but one was called Fine, for Fine Is Not Emacs, and there was Sine, for Sine Is Not Emacs, and Eine for Eine Is Not Emacs, and MINCE for Mince Is Not Complete Emacs. [Laughter] That was a stripped down imitation. And then, Eine was almost completely rewritten, and the new version was called Zwei, for Zwei Was Eine Initially. [Laughter]
| So I looked for a recursive acronym for Something is not UNIX. And I tried all 26 letters, and discovered that none of them was a word. [Laughter] Hmm, try another way. I made a contraction. That way I could have a three-letter acronym, for Something's not UNIX. And I tried letters, and I came across the word "GNU" -- the word "GNU" is the funniest word in the English language. [Laughter] That was it. Of course, the reason it's funny is that according to the dictionary, it's pronounced "new". You see? And so that's why people use it for a lot of wordplay. Let me tell you, this is the name of an animal that lives in Africa. And the African pronunciation had a click sound in it. [Laughter] Maybe still does. And so, the European colonists, when they got there, they didn't bother learning to say this click sound. So they just left it out, and they wrote a "G" which meant "there's another sound that's supposed to be here which we are not pronouncing." [Laughter] So, tonight I'm leaving for South Africa, and I have begged them, I hope they're going to find somebody who can teach me to pronounce click sounds, [Laughter] so that I'll know how to pronounce GNU the correct way, when it's the animal.
| But, when it's the name of our system, the correct pronunciation is "guh-NEW" -- pronounce the hard "G". If you talk about the "new" operating system, you'll get people very confused, because we've been working on it for 17 years now, so it is not new any more. [Laughter] But it still is, and always will be, GNU -- no matter how many people call it Linux by mistake. [Laughter]