How do you pronunce /usr?

I found in the net that someone reads it "user"... but, for what I know, this directory is not related to the user. The meaning of the acronym is "Unix specific (or system) resources".

How can we better read it, making it easy to immediately understand the sense of the scope of such folder?

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    @RubanSavvy This has been discussed on the meta site before, and the moderators seem to agree that questions related to Unix history are on-topic. – Thomas Nyman Dec 2 '13 at 10:57
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    @illuminÉ I think this question can fall under "Using or administering a *nix desktop or server". To use or administer something, you need to be able to talk about it. Questions about *nix terminology are on topic IMO. There are actually quite a few of them already but, as you can see by the votes on this and similar questions, the community considers them on topic. In cases where the help docs and the community disagree, the community always wins. – terdon Dec 2 '13 at 12:13
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    /usr/bin/bad - Only one way to read it in my mind! – Paddy Dec 2 '13 at 16:36
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    "The meaning of the acronym is Unix specific (or system) resources." Any research shows that 'USR' as an acronym for the user directory is 'retroactive'. – mikemaccana Dec 2 '13 at 17:22
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    Some years ago, at a previous job, I worked on Unix systems with the usual /usr et al setup, and with users' home directories under /user. In that context, pronouncing /usr as "slash user" would not have been a good idea. But I've never seen /user used that way before or since, so it was probably an unusual case. – Keith Thompson Dec 6 '13 at 21:38

In the original Unix implementations, /usr used to contain the user home directories, e.g. instead of /home/user, you would have /usr/user. The original intention was for the directory to be called ´user´ with the connotation "everything user related".

Since then, the role of /usr has narrowed. In current Unix-like operating systems, /usr still tends to contain user-land programs and data (as opposed to 'system' programs and data), although in many cases the distinction between for instance /usr/bin and /bin isn't perhaps as strong as it used to be.

Perhaps the pronunciation 'user' is more understandable given this background. A backronym some people prefer is 'User System Resources', but 'user' is still more common.


The "Unix specific (or system) resources" is a backronym. As already stated, it is just a shorten form of user. See this related question

I tend to pronounce it "user" with experienced people, i.e. those knowing what I'm talking about, and "u-ess-err" with the ones I'm unsure.

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    So now I know that if you "u-ess-err" me you are being condescending :) – Eric Wilson Dec 2 '13 at 15:20
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    If I know you, that might be the case indeed ;-) otherwise, I just don't take the risk being misunderstood. – jlliagre Dec 2 '13 at 16:08

I can personally vouch that it's been pronounced "user" since at least the early eighties, when portability across OS's (and with it the concept of "unix-specific" as opposed to system-independent resources) was not on anyone's map. "Unix-specific resources" is definitely a later invention, or "folk etymology".

As @Thomas demonstrates, it used to contain more obviously "user" stuff. In older systems, /usr was often a disk mount point, so that system essentials were on the root drive or partition (/), and /usr would contain userland programs and data that can be loaded later in the boot process.


Some time ago, I found the Low Fat Linux tutorial, which has this brief explanation about the Linux file sistem.

In short, it lists the following definitions:

  • /bin Contains the Linux system commands and programs (also called binaries). Pronounced "slash bin."
  • /dev Contains special device files that correspond to hardware components. Pronounced "slash dev."
  • /etc Contains configuration files for Linux and other installed software. Pronounced "slash et-see."
  • /home Contains the home directories (personal storage) for each user on the system. Pronounced "slash home."
  • /sbin Contains more Linux binaries (special utilities not for general users). Pronounced "slash ess-bin."
  • /root The home directory for the root user; not to be confused with /. Some Linux systems use /home/root instead of /root. Pronounced "slash root."
  • /usr Contains system programs and other files for general users such as games, online help, and documentation. By convention, a user should not put personal files in this directory. Pronounced "slash user."
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    I went through a video training course where the instructor kept saying "slash-etcetera". Fortunately I already knew the correct pronunciation, so it was just annoying (and surprising) instead of setting me up to be laughed at. – Wildcard Oct 21 '15 at 10:44
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    @Wildcard I don't think I've never heard of /etc being pronounced et-see except by Americans. Maybe this is regional variance (like the pronunciation of router), but here in the UK I know it as etcetera or possibly ee-tee-see. – roaima Oct 24 '15 at 11:25
  • Let's be honest: as long as the message is clear, pronunciation may be irrelevant – Barranka Oct 26 '15 at 13:27

Might as well go to the source. In this 1982 film from AT&T that features the UNIX inventors, The UNIX Operating System, Brian Kernighan pronounces /usr as "user", around the 13:41 mark. He is showing his home directory, /usr/bwk.

Until computers running UNIX got large user bases and multiple disk drives, almost all users' home directories were directly under /usr.

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