Why is distro, rather than distri, short for distribution in Linux world?

  • 25
    It's the phonetics. The last i in distri is phonetically an o hence distro being the phonetical prefix where as distri is simply the string prefix.
    – Dan D.
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 11:59
  • 10
    @Chris H: I'm American, and that's not a pronunciation I recognize. Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 13:12
  • 27
    I would like to join the choir of wonderers where on Earth distribution is pronounced as "distrobution". Or where on Mars, for that matter.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 17:43
  • 41
    I have always wondered a similar thing, why is "combination" shortened to "combo".
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 21:38
  • 17
    The second "i" in distribution is unstressed. Which in this case causes it to be reduced to a schwa ("uh") sound. It would most likely retain the schwa sound if we replaced (misspelled) it with an "a","o", or "u" (So you might make an argument for any of them). Now if we were to pronounce "distri", I think most people would tend to use a "long e" sound (as in eat). That sounds significantly different. Of the remaining vowel choices, The o ending seems much more similar to other English words. The others just sound foreign. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 11:32

11 Answers 11


My guess is that distro might have been inspired by shortenings like repo[sitory], algo[rithm], memo[randum] &c.

  • 43
    This is the only correct answer given so far. Deriving slang- or jargon-like words with -o is a somewhat productive possibility in English (non-technical ones include ‘weirdo’, ‘psycho’, ‘sicko’, ‘hobbo’, etc.). Using -y/-ie/-ee is also a possibility (‘yuppie’, ‘yankee’, ‘hippie’, ‘indie’), but -o is more commonly used when deriving technical terms. The derivational vowel does not have to be part of the base, though it can be. Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 18:02
  • 3
    Actually, 'Yankee' is 17th century Dutch. The story I've heard is that the Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam dismissed the encroaching English settlers (Connecticut and eastern Long Island) as "John Cheese" (Jan Kees, "Yon Keez"), which became Anglicized to "Yankees".
    – Phil Perry
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 21:19
  • 1
    More correctly, Yankee is about 17th Century Dutch, not from their language.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 22:37
  • 3
    How does this explain combination -> combo as wondered by @Michael? or India -> Indo-
    – user13107
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 5:29
  • 1
    @user13107 because combo is slang. Indo- is a separate issue unrelated to this question. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 11:09

Due to the Latin influence, "-o" is a much more natural-sounding ending for a singular noun in English than "-i". My best guess is that this subconsciously affected the coinage.

  • 10
    I honestly think this is most correct. Directly chopping off the end of "distribution" to get "dis-trih" doesn't sound natural at all, and attempting to pluralize it as "dis-trihs" is even worse. Using an 'o' is the next closest vowel that doesn't sound bad.
    – Izkata
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 2:06
  • 1
    I'm not a native speaker but "-i" would sound like a plural from Latin "distus" just borrowed directly from there. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 23:45
  • @Izkata - Agreed. Similarly, I've heard "presentation" abbreviated to "preso", though that's one case where even the "o" sounds somewhat unnatural to my ear.
    – user7626
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 20:39
  • 1
    Maybe less directly Latin than Spanish, Italian and French, maybe even Portuguese. In all of those languages, given the popularity of Latin '-tio' constructions, an o is the last thing you hear in a fancy word, (though it may be nasalized.) And most of their neologisms end that way. Commented May 1, 2014 at 14:58
  • @user7626 -- We would go with Prezzy, no? That kind of holds up a Latin influence (direct or indirect) because the other big class of latin words are in e/i and end with that'y' sound. Commented May 1, 2014 at 15:01

The OE has an extensive entry on the -o suffix ($) which I excerpt here:

The shortening of a word immediately after a medial o , and in particular where this occurs at the end of a prefix or combining form, first appears in the late 17th cent. and early 18th centuries, e.g. plenipo n., memo n., and hypo n.1 This probably established an association of the ending -o with casual or light-hearted use which it has retained ever since. Further examples are attested in the early 19th cent., e.g. (combining forms) Anglo n.1, mezzo n.1, typo n.; (other words) compo n.2, loco n.1 After 1851 this type of clipping becomes, and has remained, extremely common.


The pronunciation of "distribution" is:

dis·tri·bu·tion — [dis-truh-byoo-shuhn] — /ˌdɪstrəˈbyuʃən/

"-stri" would typically be pronounced similar to the beginning of "street" or "stripe".

"-stro", on the other hand, would be pronounced similar to the beginning of "strobe" which isn't exactly the same but close enough in American English that we'd rather say "distro" than "distri".

Furthermore, the "-tri" ending is very rare in English with "-tro" being slightly more common.

  • 4
    It's the same sound as in vegetable, and we shorten that to veggie. Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 17:56
  • 1
    We also shorten vegetable to "veg". What's your point?
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 18:23
  • 4
    That the shortening of a word at a schwa to o instead of i is not a given. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 11:12
  • 1
    I have never heard anyone say “distrəbution”.
    – kinokijuf
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 21:08
  • 1
    @kinokijuf: It sounds like you are either sheltered or don't know the range of sounds that are denoted by schwa.
    – John Y
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 14:54

If you create a new word, similarity to already existing words makes the difference between "sound good" and "sound weird".

"Distro" is very similar to already existing word "bistro". There are also "maestro", "electro", "nitro", "metro", "retro" etc.

On the other hand, I don't know any word with singular ending with "-tri". It looks like some plural form (like "uteri").

  • 1
    Pantry? Pastry? Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 17:58
  • @PeterShor but this is -try, not -tri Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 19:58
  • 2
    Petri (as in dish), but I can't finds any more off the top of my head.
    – terdon
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 1:23
  • 1
    Maestro can be pluralized (as per the Italian way) as maestri.
    – tobyink
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 23:13
  • 1
    @РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Whether a word-final /i/ is spelt -y (as in puppy) or -i (as in petri) doesn’t matter one iota. It could be spelt -ie (as in doggie), -ey (as in bogey), -ieu (as in beaulieu), -iz (as in Agassiz), or -ough (as in Colcolough) for all the difference it would make. There are plenty of other words that would be good parallels for a shortened distribution with a final /i/, not least Peter’s pastry. If that had been the vowel adopted, it would almost certainly have ended up being spelt a distry or a distrie, though. Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 1:48

In Germany, 'distri' is short for distributor (i.e. a person or company that distributes wares to retailers). So I always assumed that that was there first, and to avoid ambiguity, 'distro' was chosen for the noun 'distribution'.

  • I don't believe this has any chance of being the definitive answer to the question, but to me it's yet another factor that supports the popular use of distro and works against distri as a contender.
    – John Y
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 15:23
  • I'm German and I've never heard the abbreviation "Distri" for "Distributor" while I frequently encounter "Distri" as a shortening of "Distribution" in the context of Linux distributions.
    – Christian
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 21:28
  • @Christian, interesting. Just as an additional data point: Are you in any way involved in retail or creating physical goods that need a distributor?
    – uliwitness
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 8:35
  • Nope, not personally.
    – Christian
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 1:41
  • We do at work, so I suppose it could be considered technical jargon then. I never really thought about whether "normal" people would understand this word. But then, when I first heard it, it was obvious from context.
    – uliwitness
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 16:52

An abbreviation doesn't have to use an unbroken sequence of letters beginning with the start of the word, so "DISTRibutiOn" can collapse to "distro".

What does "Linux" itself stand for if not "LINUs' (variant of) uniX"?

At the risk of triggering Godwin's Law, there is the rather (in)famous example of "NAtionalsoZIalistische".

  • Wiktionary points out that "Nazi" is just the first two syllables of "Nationalsozialistische."
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 4:35

Uh, because distro sounds awesome...

Distri sounds like a New Yorker pointing out which bit of flora you want duh gahdnuh (gardener) to cut down. [Dis tree . . . as opposed to dat tree.]

And before anyone complains that is a Boston accent: Gawdnuh is Boston. Gahdnuh is New York. I'll let @RegDwigнt translate that into IPA for anyone who wishes. ;-)

  • @RegDwigнt ... See above
    – David M
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 19:54
  • Wouldn't a GnuYawkah pronounce "the gardener" as "deh gahdnuh". To my eye "de" would be pronounced with a long "e" (e.g. "dee") which I don't believe would be the common GnuYawkese pronunciation. YMMV. (And IANAGY). Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 13:52
  • @BobJarvis Duh or Deh depending upon where you were from, I'd say. I'll edit it.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 14:12

Because the i in "distri" would be short, and awkward.

In English when you have a vowel sound followed by a consonant, the syllable break is generally between them for long vowels, and after them for short vowels.

Consider: pro/nounce or ma/king, vs. pub/lic or but/ton.

Consequently, we don't really have dangling short vowels very often - at the end of words or anywhere else.

  • The i in making is short, which basically invalidates your point completely. Another thing that does so is that English has plenty of dangling short vowels. All the words in -(l)y or -ie would basically be exact parallels to distro with a final /i/, not to mention the even more perfect parallel mentioned in Peter’s comment to PCT[etc.]’s answer: pastry. There is nothing whatsoever wrong or unnatural about dangling short vowels in English. Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 1:34

For precisely the same reason that "duplication" gets abbreved as "dupe", as in someone gullible or easily fooled. The answer is, "because".

  • Not the most helpful answer in the world as it is phrased. Instead of because you might have said, by convention.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 3:33
  • Perhaps you are unaware of "[just] because" being used to convey "no real reason"?
    – Bruce
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 18:27

Distro is slang. One usage example is http://distrowatch.com. And if you google for distribution etymology, you get the following diagram.

Latin: distribuere -> distributio

English: distribute -> distribution

If you pronounce distribution in English, it sounds like distribjuschen (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/pronunciation/business-english/distribution).

But Linux and many open source distributions come from Europe. And this term could have been coined in Germany where distribution is pronounced differently (http://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/Distribution, no voice recording).

In the English distribution, only the first two syllables are strong (distri); the bution follows after like a tail. But in the German distribution, the dis is strong, the tri is fairly weak, the bu is strong and the tion again is strong: DIStriBUtiON vs DISTRIbution.

So from the English pronunciation, going to distri is most logical. In German however the tri is weak so going to distri makes no phonetic sense.

  • 6
    No. In English,the first and third syllables are strong. Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 18:00
  • Did distro originate with Linux? If so, could Torvald's native Finnish (Suomi?) have had some influence on the term?
    – Phil Perry
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 14:44
  • Not really clear @PhilPerry books.google.com/ngrams/… does not point out where but only when the term came into use Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 14:47
  • 4
    @PhilPerry, Linus is not a native Finnish speaker. He's Finnish, but he's part of the small Swedish-speaking minority.
    – tobyink
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 23:16
  • 1
    He also only wrote the kernel which is as far from a Linux distribution as you can get ;)
    – Christian
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 21:31

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