How to pronounce SQL

In the thirty-second minute of a YouTube video featuring Oracle CEO Larry Ellison you can hear him say clearly “we compete against Microsoft SQL Server … we never compete against MySQL”.

The important thing is that he says “Microsoft SEQUEL Server” the way Microsoft people say it, but he says “My-ESS-CUE-ELL” the way the MySQL Reference Manual says is “official” pronunciation (for English). That is, for product names Mr Ellison respects the way the product makers say it. That settles that, but what about the word SQL in general?

Although SEQUEL was the earlier name, there are no English words where the letter Q alone is pronounced KW. So this can’t be settled with logic. Let’s try appealing to authority.

I looked for the way that other prominent database people said it, or the way they wrote it — if they wrote “an SQL” then the pronunciation must be “Ess-Cue-Ell”; if they wrote “a SQL” then the pronunciation must be “Sequel”.

The results were:

Joe CelkoBothYouTube
Don Chamberlin Ess-Cue-EllBook Excerpt
C.J.DateSequel“A guide to the SQL Standard” (1987), p. 10, p. 32
David DeWittSequel YouTube
Steven Feuerstein bothYouTube
Bill GatesBothYouTube
Jim Gray SequelPodcast
Joseph M. Hellerstein BothPodcast
Jim MeltonEss-Cue-EllPodcast
Curt Monash SequelArticle
Shamkant NavatheEss-Cue-Ell“Fundamentals of Database Systems” with Ramez Elmasri (3rd edition) p. 207
Patricia SelingerSequel YouTube
Jim StarkeySequel Blog comment
Michael Stonebraker SequelYouTube
Jennifer WidomSequelYouTube
Winner: Nobody. “Sequel” gets the most votes, but Chamberlin says “Ess-Cue-Ell”, and he gets extra weight because he’s the co-developer of SQL.

… Then I checked vendor documentation. All manuals are inconsistent so this is based on which choice is most frequent.

Winner: “Sequel”, because Oracle and Microsoft are big.

As for NoSQL: Dwight Merriman (the chairman of MongoDB Inc.) says No-Sequel, and Martin Fowler (the co-author of NoSQL Distilled) says No-Sequel, but there’s an IBM tutorial that says No-Ess-Cue-Ell.

… Finally I looked again at my beloved “Standard” document.

Winner: “Ess-Cue-Ell”, of course.

… And what I did not do is count Google hits. I know “Sequel” would win big if it was a hoi polloi decision, but this is a technical term. Many people pronounce Uranus in a way that astronomers dislike; many people say Brontosaurus although paleontologists say Apatosaurus — but if you were in astronomy or paleontology you’d have to go with what the experts say. Majority opinion is only decisive for ordinary language.

In the end, then, it’s “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. In Microsoft or Oracle contexts one should, like Mr Ellison, respect Microsoft’s or Oracle’s way of speaking. But here in open-source-DBMS-land the preference is to follow the standard.

So the name of this blog is Ess-cue-ell and its Sequels.

, September 23, 2013. Category: Standard SQL.

About pgulutzan

Co-author of four computer books. Software Architect at MySQL/Sun/Oracle from 2003-2011, and at HP for a little while after that. Currently with Ocelot Computer Services Inc. in Edmonton Canada.


  1. It’s possible to link to a specific point in a Youtube video: