Matrices or Mattresses?

Nobody could accuse me of being posh, and compared to most of the developers I work with here at Microsoft I’m probably not the brightest button in the box. But I did study mathematics in the past, including matrix theory. I just never got to pronounce it right.

It all came rushing back to me as I was watching a presentation about using singular value decomposition (SVD) to identify textual semantic spaces in a Big Data solution. I guess with a title like that I should have known better, but it did sound interesting. And would probably be really useful if I could understand any of it. Mind you, it was the end of a particularly stressful day and I was trying to get some other jobs finished at the same time it was playing on the second screen. Maybe an early start straight after a couple of cups of strong coffee will help next time.

But what struck me was that I remember everyone at school and college pronounced “matrix” with an “a” sound like in “apple”, not an “ay” sound like in “say”. Perhaps that’s where being a rough English Northerner rather than a posh Home Counties softie comes into play. We say “grass” with the same “a as in apple” sound rather than “grahhss”.

And even when the movie “The Matrix” came out and everyone called it “The May-tricks”, I never thought about the different pronunciation. I suppose because, in my day job, you don’t come across many matrices. Though I will accept that if you pronounce the plural as “may-tress-ease” rather than “mat-ress-ease” you’re less likely to get confused when visiting a bed shop.

Though it did remind me of the story about an Englishman and an American who were trying to set up a meeting at a mutually convenient time:

Englishman: “You don’t pronounce it like that! The proper way is ‘shed-yool'”
American: “Really? Is that what they taught you at sshool…”

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