There was a time, years ago, when even clever, well-informed programmers pronounced name of the operating system “Linux” much like the name of Charlie Brown’s friend Linus. Lye-nix. One of the things that eventually set people straight on this (it was certainly the thing that set me straight) was a little audio recording of Linux author Linus Torvalds himself pronouncing it. It was an argument stopper: don’t argue with Linus. As this video shows, he doesn’t much care how you say his name, but there is only one way to say Linux.
That’s good news, so far as it goes, but we can’t run to Linus Torvalds and ask him to pronounce everything for us. For instance, suppose you want to know how to say São Paulo. What is up with that little twiddle thingy? I’m not even sure that Linus speaks Portuguese.
Forvo is very cool, but it’s also got the upside and downside of all wikis. Anybody can improve it, but then again anybody can damage it too. It seems to be working pretty well, but who knows? I could be learning joke pronunciations for all I know.
Another problem stems from the very international flavor of the site. If you don’t know how to read the script, then there’s not much you can do to find the pronunciation. I have heard that the country name Qatar happens to combine in one small package the three most difficult Arabic sounds for an English speaker to reproduce. Qatar, Gutter, Cutter, Khattr, Flickr, none of the transliterations comes close to the right sound. So how do you say it? Take a look at this list and pick the right one.
It’s a trick question. It’s not on there (as of this writing, anyway).
But Forvo can tell you that you’ve been mispronouncing Lech Walesa all these years. So it goes. The web can settle all arguments, and here is one more way for tedious know-it-alls with WiFi access to correct you.