I'm Morgan McGuire (@CasualEffects). I've been working on computer graphics and games for 20 years at great places including NVIDIA, Williams College, Brown University, and Activision.

See my home page for a full index of my blog posts, books, research, and projects.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Computational Graphics Pronunciation Guide

It is hard to know the accepted English pronunciation of technical terms that you've only read, or are either unfamiliar with the language from which they come or are not a native English speaker. (And I have a lot of sympathy--I've been working with minimal success for years on my own pronunciation and accent in languages that are new to me.)

I'm a native American English speaker and had the benefit of several mentors with impeccable academic grammar and pronunciation. I'm passing on what I've learned in this guide to terms with challenging pronunciations that appear in graphics publications or are frequently spoken in academic talks.

These are the words I hear colleagues and students mispronouncing often, plus many suggestions I've received by e-mail and Twitter since this article was first posted--please send suggestions if you've encountered others, and corrections where you spot errors. I don't care how you pronounce these words...but if you asked my advice because you were concerned about miscommunication or embarrassing yourself, this is what I would tell you. Language evolves, so the right answer changes over time, and my interest isn't in "correcting" anyone or arguing about who is right.

Here's the most accepted pronunciation of certain terms when speaking in [American] English to a technical audience:

  • albedo ("al-bee-doe")
  • albeit ("al-bee-it")
  • aliasing ("ail-ee-ass-ing")
  • anisotropic ("ann-eye-so-tra-pick"), although pronouncing the "tra" as "troe" is a common regional accent and doesn't sound incorrect
  • antipodes ("ann-tip-oh-dees") even though the singular, "antipode" is pronounced "anti-pode"
  • Bezier ("bez-ee-yay")
  • bokeh ("boe-keh") according to the inventor of the English spelling
  • cache ("cash") the final "e" is silent. The word pronounced "cash-ay" is "cachet," which means something completely different. Also consider whether you really mean "cache" or "memoize" while you're thinking about the pronunciation.
  • de Casteljau ("dee cast-el-joh")
  • Cartesian ("car-tea-zhen")
  • Cauchy ("co-she")
  • Delone, a.k.a. Delaunay ("de-lawn-ayh") was Russian, not French (although of French descent). This is how it his name is pronounced by American academics, but "de-lawn-eh" is more accurate to the actual "Делоне́"
  • Euler ("oy-lur")
  • Eulerian ("oy-lair-ian")
  • Euclidean ("you-klid-ee-an")
  • experiment ("ex-pear-ih-ment")
  • Fourier ("four-ee-yay")
  • Fresnel ("fren-el")
  • finite ("fine-ite")
  • frustum ("frus-tum") note that there is only one "r", near the beginning
  • GIF ("jif") like the peanut butter, according to the inventor, although the hard-G alternative is also commonly heard
  • Gouraud ("goo-roh")
  • Hermite ("air-meet")
  • homogeneous ("home-oh-gene-ee-yus") the "oh" is "ah" in some regional accents
  • iterative ("it-ur-uh-tiv") the last syllable rhymes with "give"
  • iterate ("it-ur-ate") the last syllable is the number 8
  • infinite ("in-fin-it") the middle syllable is what a fish swims with. This is annoyingly different from the way that "finite" is pronounced
  • Jacobian ("jack-oh-bee-an") pronounced this way in English, although Jacobi was German, so this word based on his name theoretically should be pronounced "yak-oh-bee-an"
  • [Steve] Jobs ("jahhbs") - as in, having more than one occupation, not like Job from the bible
  • JPEG ("jay-peg")
  • Kajiya ("kah-gee-uh")
  • Lagrange ("lah-grahn-zhuh") does not rhyme with "range"
  • Lanczos ("lawn-sosh") the "cz" sound is the same one from "tsar/czar", which is between "s" and "z" in English
  • Lebesgue ("luh-bayge")
  • moot ("moo-t"), like a cow
  • Mersenne ("mehr-senn") rhymes with "pen", not with "sane"
  • Moiré ("mwah-ray")
  • niche ("neesh") although "nitch" is often considered acceptable today. Saying it like "Nietzsche" with two syllables is probably not acceptable anywhere, though
  • Poisson ("pwah-sawn")
  • queue ("cue", like the letter "Q")
  • Runge-Kutta ("roon-geh coot-tuh")
  • sans serif ("sahn sair-if")
  • schema ("skee-mah")
  • scalar ("scale-are")
  • spatial ("spay-shull")
  • SPIR-V ("spear-vee") according to Neil Henning
  • SIGGRAPH ("sih-graf" rhymes with "pig laugh")
  • subsequent ("sub-seck-went")
  • Silicon ("sill-ih-cahn") the element used in circuits, distinct from rubbery "silicone"
  • temporal ("tem-pore-ull") the stress moves between the first and second syllable depending on regional accent
  • Ubisoft ("you-bee-soft")
  • Verlet ("verr-lay") the first syllable is like "purr" from a cat
  • Voronoi ("vor-ron-noy") note that Georgy Voronoy was Russian, not French
  • vignette ("vin-yet" rhymes with "pin bet")
  • Vive ("vie-v") Rhymes with "dive" 
  • Wang [Tiles] ("wong")
  • Weta ("whet-ah") As in, not dry
Americans tend to move the accents for the French names to the first syllable, although I'm assured by native French speakers that is incorrect.

By popular requests on Twitter I'm adding my own name and those of some of my colleagues:
  • Morgan McGuire ("more-gun mick-wire")
  • Cem Yuksel ("gem yook-sell")
  • Cyril Crassin ("seer-rill krass-awn")
  • Szirmay-Kalos Lazlo ("seer-may kal-owe-sh lazz-low")

Letters and Numbers

The preferred pronunciation of Greek letters depends on the country in which you are speaking. The common pronunciation used in American English actually differs significantly from how the letters would be pronounced in modern Greece itself. Here are some of the letters that commonly appear in computational graphics equations:

American English:
  • Alpha ("al-fah")
  • Beta ("bait-ah")
  • Gamma ("gam-mah")
  • Delta ("del-tah")
  • Theta ("they-tah")
  • Eta ("ay-tah")
  • Lambda ("lamb-dah")
  • Mu ("mew")
  • Pi ("pie")
  • Phi ("fee" or "fie", the second rhymes with "die")
  • Omega ("oh-may-gah" or "oh-me-gah")
  • Alpha ("al-fah")
  • Beta ("vee-ta")
  • Gamma ("wram-mah")
  • Delta ("thel-tah")
  • Theta ("thee-tah")
  • Eta ("ee-tah")
  • Lambda ("lamb-thah")
  • Mu ("me")
  • Pi ("pee")
  • Phi ("fee")
  • Omega ("oh-may-hah")

Letters in the Roman alphabet are pronounced mostly the same in English in different countries. The one exception is "z" in American English and UK English.

American English:
  • z ("zee")
  • number 0 ("zero")
  • number 1 ("won")
UK English:
  • z ("zed")
  • number 0 ("zero" rhymes with "hero", although "nought" is sometimes used)
  • number 1 ("won" or "unity")
Beware that although the terms have been standardized today as billion = 109 and trillion = 1012, British and American English used to differ and you could conceivably encounter ambiguity in reading an old text. "Billion" in British English used to mean 1012 and "trillion" used to mean 1018.


Certain painters occasionally are mentioned in graphics, particularly expressive rendering.

The surname of Vincent van Gogh pronounced correctly in Dutch sounds something like "van-cock" to the ears of English speakers. However, British English speakers usually say "van-goff" and American English speakers usually say "van-goh." The BBC recommends "van-gock."

Old master Tiziano Vecelli is referred to as "Titian" in English, which is pronounced "tish-en."

Dutch nonrepresentational painter Piet Mondrian's surname is usually pronounced "mon-dree-ahn" in English by art historians.

French impressionist Auguste Renoir's surname is pronounced "ren-wah" with the accent on either syllable, relatively close to the original French pronunciation...or "ren-wahr" which is fairly far from it.

Bonus Advice

"Vertices" is the plural of "vertex." There is no word "vertice" in English (or Latin, as far as I know). It is considered acceptable usage today to use "vertexes" as the plural. The same rules apply to "index"/"indices" and "matrix"/"matrices".

The word "data" is the plural of "datum." So, you almost always want to say "the data are" instead of "the data is." Try replacing "data" with "datums" in your head to see if your sentence sounds correct. "Data" is well on its way to becoming singular in common usage due to language drift, but beware that you'll sound ignorant to more senior or linguistically conservative scientists and engineers if you use it that way.

In everyday usage, art, and anthropology, "artifact" just means "sign," "evidence," or "thing." In experimental sciences, it means data that arose because of the measurement or preparation process. Graphics is between art and science in jargon, but either way, "artifact" doesn't strictly mean "error." So, qualify the word when that is what you mean: "undesirable visual artifact," or simply say, "error." Note that it is correct to say something like, "strobing reported by the subject was an artifact of the low frame rate on the display," or "there are some artifacts from the texture compression" (if you are using texture compression in the process, but not if your experiments are on compression itself) but not "there are some shadow artifacts."

Compound nouns are hyphenated in English when using them as adjectives. This is why we write "this is a 64-bit register" using a hyphen, but put no hyphen in "the register holds 64 bits."

After adding an extra "r" to frustum, the most common spelling mistake in graphics might be forgetting that "tessellation" has two Ls.

For more general English grammar and spelling advice in technical documents, I recommend Michael Littman's style guide.

Morgan McGuire (@morgan3d) is a professor at Williams College, a researcher at NVIDIA, and a professional game developer. His most recent games are Project Rocket Golfing for iOS and Skylanders: Superchargers for consoles. He is the author of the Graphics Codex, an essential reference for computer graphics now available in iOS and Web Editions.