Yes Yes I know it has been asked (several times), but I still feel confused.

In the TeXbook, Donald Knuth wrote:

Insiders pronounce the χ of TeX as a Greek chi, not as an ‘x’

(I hope that I didn't misunderstand what this phrase means).

But I did try to listen the Greek pronunciation of the letter χ, and it sounds like the word he in English. For example:




But if so, the pronunciation is weird (at least for me).

Did I misunderstand what Donald Knuth wrote above?

It would be nice to have your sound in a mp3. A text description is too hard to understand the pronunciation.

  • The final vocal you hear doesn't belong to the letter. It's actually a bit different from the sound of "h" in the English "he"; the tongue should be raised a bit for pronouncing the Greek χ. Try pronouncing a "K", but breathing. – egreg May 24 '13 at 9:01
  • 2
    It would be helpful if you could clarify how this question differs from tex.stackexchange.com/q/17502/2707 . @egreg, modern Greeks appear to pronounce χ in a way very similar to the h in 'he', as the OP mentions, but I may be wrong. – Bruno Le Floch May 24 '13 at 9:05
  • The difference is that I didn't find a good answer there and I did specify what I want to know about the last letter x. – user565739 May 24 '13 at 9:06
  • Just pronounce the 'T' and the 'e', and then scrape your throat. (I think that is the best approximation for people who do not have this phoneme in their mother tongue.) – jmc May 24 '13 at 10:19
  • Just don't say "Tex". Call it "cookies" for all we care. :) – Lee White May 24 '13 at 10:54

As for χ, Knuth may have followed a more classical way of pronunciation.

Nowadays, Greek 'χ' is pronounced like 'ch' in the German word Technik, not like 'ch' in 'J. S. Bach'.

The χ sound is unknown to English speakers. They can get an impression of it here (In the WEB page linked in user565739's answer).

Therefore, TeX could also be pronounced like Technik [ˈtɛçnɪk] without 'nik'.

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I tryed to consult other source than the venerable "The TeXbook". Then, I found

from Wikipedia:

TeX pron.: /ˈtɛx/ as in Greek, but often pronounced /ˈtɛk/ in English

and from LyX Wiki:

The 'X' is "really" the Greek letter Chi, and is pronounced by English-speakers either a bit like the 'ch' in the Scots word 'loch' ([x] in the IPA) or like 'k'. It definitely is not pronounced 'ks' (the Greek letter with that sound doesn't look remotely like the Latin alphabet 'X').

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I think there are two problems here: first, Modern Greek is pronounced pretty differently to Classical, so I think the pronounciation of chi has changed somewhat, and secondly it's not a sound which records very clearly - I know what I'm looking for, so I can hear that they're not quite making the same sound as English 'h', but it does come out as pretty similar.

The final sound of 'Bach' here is pretty clear and is what you should aim for if you want to sound authentic; frankly I just pronounce TeX as tech anyway: YouTube

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From Knuth himself, in The TeXbook (page 1):

Insiders pronounce the χ of TEX as a Greek chi, not as an ‘x’, so that TEX rhymes with the word blecchhh. It’s the ‘ch’ sound in Scottish words like loch or German words like ach; it’s a Spanish ‘j’ and a Russian ‘kh’. When you say it correctly to your computer, the terminal may become slightly moist.

If you go to [this website], and type ech into the big textbox and click "Say It", you'll hear how it should be pronounced.

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  • 2
    He (Knuth) is wrong in that point. The Greek chi as a stand-alone consonant sounds rather like 'ch' in the German word 'Technik' or 'fechten', than 'ch' in the German word 'ach'. – AlexG May 24 '13 at 10:17
  • @AlexG -- i know that in modern greek, the chi is "softened", but knuth would more likely have been exposed to classical greek. he was certainly exposed to mad magazine, which is what i suspect may have influenced the "blecchhh" reference. – barbara beeton May 24 '13 at 13:46
  • @barbarabeeton: Interesting. I assumed, Knuth made reference to the German word 'Blech' (steel/tin/copper plate), which, again, is pronounced like 'ch' in German 'Technik'. In German "talking 'Blech'" is used as a synonym for nonsense/bullshit. – AlexG May 24 '13 at 14:24
  • @barbarabeeton: I could swear that 99 % of all German TeX users pronounce it like [tɛç]. (In the way they learned how to pronounce χ during their mass classes.) – AlexG May 24 '13 at 14:30
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    @AlexG -- i've observed the same pronunciation from (most) german users. but since i learned to pronounce it directly from don knuth, and have studied german, russian, modern greek, and linguistics, i think i have a sufficiently varied background to address the phonology as well as the intention. (after all, one tends to copy the pronunciation that one first hears. with regard to a similar situation, one is advised to ask a person how his/her name is pronounced before making an introduction to an audience.) – barbara beeton May 24 '13 at 14:50

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