[its-hackers] "ITS" pronunciation

Jack Haverty jack at 3kitty.org
Tue Sep 14 17:56:21 CEST 2021

Curious....    I don't remember any pronunciation other than "its" being 
used at all.   Never "eye-tee-ess".

My experience is from the period 1970-1977.   I joined the DM group in 
early 1970.  By then, ITS had been running for a while on the AI and DM 
machines, both PDP-6s and 10s.  But our DM machine was in its early 
stages - no disks or paging or swapping or much memory yet, and both 
hardware and software were ... "unreliable" is a nice way to put it.   
But still a lot better than waiting for your deck of punch cards to get 
processed at the Comp Center.

When you went to a console and hit ^Z, you'd get back, if the karma was 
right, "ITS xxxx in operation".   Or "ITS being debugged" if someone was 
up on the 9th floor running the system standalone.

I recall asking what "its" meant and hearing the plausible story that it 
represented a play on words as a competitor to the "official" MIT 
timesharing utility - CTSS, the Compatible Time Sharing System.  ITS was 
created as the "Incompatible Time Sharing system".

Another explanation was due to the flakiness of computers in those 
days.   On entering the building the typical question was "How's the 
system?"  The answer: "It's down" or "It's up".  Sometimes "It's still 
down" or "It's down again".  So the name became ITS, and the phrase 
"Incompatible Time Sharing system" was then created to explain ITS as an 

Which really came first?  No idea then, no idea now.    But it was 
always "its".

I also recall that there were a lot of acronyms in those days.  DEC was 
Digital Equipment Corporation, pronounced "Deck", not "Dess"  or "Dee 
Eee Cee".  IBM was International Business Machines pronounced "Eye Bee 
Emm", not "ib imm".   Sometimes called "Itsy Bitsy Machines".  CDC was 
Control Data Corporation, pronounced "Cee Dee Cee".   GE was General 
Electric, pronounced "Gee Eee", not "geh". Multics was Multiplexed 
Information and Computing Service (IIRC), pronounced "Mull Ticks", not 
"Emm You Ell Tee Eye Cee Ess".   MVS was something I can't remember, but 
always pronounced "Emm Vee Ess".   VM was "Vee Emm", not "Virtual 
Machine".   DOS was IBM's Disk Operating System, pronounced "Doss", 
maybe sometimes "Dee Oh Ess".  Microsoft didn't exist yet.

I bet some linguist has studied such acronyms and their history. My gut 
feeling is that the common usage in a community where a term was used 
frequently tended to use the pronounciation with the fewest syllables, 
preferably sounding like a word.   So terms such as CDC or MVS never 
became words because there's no obvious choice of a word to go with 
those letters.   "Its" is slightly faster to speak than "Eye Tee Ess".

So ITS was "its", at least during the early 70s.  That may have changed 
later as the system became more reliable.   IIRC.

/Jack Haverty
(MIT-DM 1970-1977)

On 9/14/21 6:56 AM, Eric Swenson wrote:
> We pronounced it eye-tee-ess.
> On 9/14/21, 1:00 AM, "its-hackers on behalf of Lars Brinkhoff" <its-hackers-bounces at its.victor.se on behalf of lars at nocrew.org> wrote:
>      Hello,
>      I'd like to ask people who were at MIT back in the day: How do you
>      pronounce "ITS"?  Do you remember anyone saying it like the single-
>      syllable word "its"?

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