SQL has been around for decades and supports a many billion dollar market. However, many people still struggle with just how to pronounce the term SQL. Is it “S.Q.L” [ˈɛs kjuː ˈɛl] or is it “sequel” [ˈsiːkwəl]?
SQL... Where it all started
Let’s start at the beginning.
Relational databases came into existence with E.F. Codd’s 1970 publication “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks.” While Codd’s ideas were remarkable for the time, in San Jose, California, two colleagues named Donald D. Chamberlin and Raymond F. Boyce were developing SQUARE (Specifying Queries As Relational Expressions) – a query language. By 1974 they published the query language SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language) based on SQUARE. Unfortunately, due to trademark violations on the acronym SEQUEL, which was already registered by the Hawker Siddeley aircraft company, the name was changed to Structured Query Language and abbreviated as SQL.
In 1979, not long after IBM’s prototype, the first SQL product, ORACLE V2, was released by Relational Software (which was later renamed to Oracle Corporation). Within weeks of the Oracle V2 release, IBM released its first offering, System R, using a new query language called SEQUEL developed by IBM. This was followed by SQL/DS in 1981, and finally DB2 1983, which remains IBM’s flagship RDMS product to this day.
“S.Q.L” or “SEQUEL”?
On the Internet, there are many battles about how SQL should be pronounced. Some people are for “sequel,” some are for “S.Q.L.,” and still others make their own pronunciations.
The standard says that ‘Ess-cue-ell’ is the appropriate way of speaking SQL. However, many English-speaking database professionals still use the nonstandard pronunciation “sequel.”
Looking to the authorities: Prof. Jennifer Widom, co-author of four popular database books, pronounced SQL Language as “sequel” in her Stanford database course. Christopher J. Date in “A guide to the SQL Standard” (1987) also pronounced the term as “sequel”.
Who is the winner?
I guess nobody. “Sequel” gets the most votes, but Chamberlin says “Ess-Cue-Ell,” and he gets an extra vote because he’s the co-developer of SQL. Is the historical context that relevant?
Also, note that implementations may have their own preferences.
The official way to pronounce “MySQL” is “My Ess Que Ell” (not “my sequel”), but some do not mind if you pronounce it as “my sequel” or in some other localized way.
Microsoft SQL Server is also very often pronounced as “sequel server”: Bill Gates uses it on his SQL Server/Miller Lite Commercial.
Martin Fowler, the co-author of NoSQL Distilled pronounces it “No-sequel” database. See: Martin Fowler’s talk from the GOTO Aarhus Conference 2012.
If you look at Oracle’s official documentation on SQL, it says it’s still pronounced “sequel.”
However, PostgreSQL wouldn’t sound right as “postgresequel” but “post-GRES-que-ell” or simply “postgres”. SQL was also usually paired with the acronym RDBMS (relational database management system). SQL/RDBMS isn’t pronounced “sequel-reedbums” but rather “S-Q-L-R-D-B-M-S”, as pointed out by an anonymous user in one of the many S.Q.L. vs. sequel discussions.
There is little consistency in database products. One thing that is commonly seen is that almost everyone who is talking about the language itself uses “S.Q.L.” When talking about a product or a vendor dialect, “sequel” is used. For example, “PL – sequel” (PL/SQL), “Transact – sequel” (T-SQL), and “sequel server” (Microsoft SQL Server and Sybase SQL Server).
MySQL, PostgreSQL and SQLite all have official pronunciations of S.Q.L. Microsoft and Oracle products have adopted the pronunciation “sequel” However, thinking about Oracle’s acquisition of MySQL, we can start wonder: will we soon be saying “My sequel” or will we still say MySQL?
Oracle and Microsoft are giants in the database world, so should we respect their way of saying SQL?
Many argument: “If I was using Sequel, I’d call it “sequel.” I’m using SQL, so I call it S.Q.L.” People can let their imaginations run wild inventing more pronunciations: let go their imagination inventing more: squall, sqwool, sqwll, squirrel
Finally, is it relevant and important to debate the proper way to pronounce SQL? Some users believe that it is.
Do you have your own preference for saying “SQL?” Let us know in the comments section!