Random Thoughts of GNU and Linux

A Portrait of RMS by Jin Wicked (click here)

	At 11/23/2002 Saturday 08:50 AM [a member
	of the WNC(G)LUG] forwarded this:
	> From: Richard Stallman 
	> To: jerry[ . . . ]
	> [ . . . ]
	> For a more accurate picture of the history I recommend
	> http://www.gnu.org/gnu/the-gnu-project.html.
	> The easiest way to avoid spreading the wrong picture
	> of the system's origin and history is to call the
	> system "GNU/Linux".  


First, it is a fair proposal.

Suppose, for whatever reason, Ford decided to build its automobiles with engines contracted from Rolls-Royce. The car would still be a “Ford,” not a “Rolls-Royce,” no matter how much more glamorous the latter appelation might seem to prospective owners. And certainly the compromise name “Ford/Rolls-Royce” would give more than its due to Rolls-Royce. Likewise, GNU/Linux is a GNU operating system with a Linux engine.

The predominant pronunciation of gnu, the animal, in the English speaking world has been “new,” with the g silent. Hackers tend to wordplay. It is no coincidence that in the predominant pronunciation “GNU” software is indistiguishable from “new” software.

Few dictionaries give the alternative “g-noo” (still one syllable). This has been a fount for comedians throughout the twentieth century, yet it seems to be the preference of hackers talking about the operating system.

In particular, the comedy duo Flanders & Swann (Michael Flanders and Donald Swann) sing “The Gnu Song” on their albumAt the Drop of a Hat” It is all the more humorous because they not only sound the silent “g” in gnu, but emphasize it by pronouncing the silent initials of other words (“You really ought to kun-oh hw-oo's hw-oo”) and adding an initial g sound to some other words beginning with “n” (“I'm gun-not a camel or a kangaroo, so let me introduce, I'm gun-ither man or moose”). The notes to the collection “The Complete Flanders & Swann” says, “Hat has changed the pronunciation of this word into two syllables.”

Whether under the influence of Flanders & Swann, by the hacker's essential contrarian nature, or through stubborn literal-mindedness, hackers seem to say “gunoo.”

RMS = social theorist; LT = hacker's hacker

Without taking anything away from the grand, global hack that Linus Torvalds (LT) sparked with the Linux kernel, he is not the social theorist and natural philosopher that Richard Stallman (RMS) has become. The Linux kernel is not the social statement and philosophical lever that the GNU project is.

LT started the Linux snowball rolling, and it has swept downhill, growing in critical mass and momentum, perhaps sweeping aside other initiatives, but looking like it might eventually knock a big hole in the cathedral that copyright built. The avalanche RMS has triggered by the slow, careful crafting of GNU may have called into question the very foundation of copyright, and may utterly flatten that cathedral, leaving a nice, flat, level place for the open air market.

One day, the concept of “owning” an idea may seem as strange to us as “owning” the air we breathe.

2002--2007 by Christopher Karl Johansen. All Right Reserved.
Created 2002 Nov 30 Sat, St. Andrews Day,
changed Dec 7 Sat, Pearl Harbor Day,
2007 Apr 26 Thu, Confederate Memorial Day.