Thursday, 1 August 2013

How to pronounce "de Bruijn"

For those who work in bioinformatics the phrase "de Bruijn graph" will be familiar. Although it technically refers to a mathematical construct, it is commonly used in bioinformatics to refer to the data structure used to store DNA read connections in many de novo assembly algorithms such as EULER (*), Velvet, Gossamer and lots of other implementations.

Although we all agree the de Bruijn graph is a "really neat idea", what we don't seem to agree on is how to pronounce it!

Now, the de Bruijn graph is named after the mathematician Nicolaas Govert de Bruijn. Nicolaas was from the Netherlands, so he is Dutch. The word "bruijn" essentially means the colour brown - although modern spelling would be "bruin".

Here are the various ways I have heard it pronounced, some of them in successive talks at ISMB 2013 in the same session even:

  • broon
  • broo-en, brewin' 
  • bra-jen, brar-djen
  • brin
  • brun
  • bruggin, bruggen
  • broin, broyn

All of these are wrong. Even this BioStar post appears to be wrong...

The closest sounding word in English is "BROWN".
The closest sounding word in German is probably "BRAUN".

Here is a recording of his whole name being pronounced in Dutch. 
If you want to add some authenticity, try and roll the "R" a little bit.

Hopefully this puts an end to the confusion once and for all.

(*) "Euler" is another German mathematician whose name is often mispronounced in English. Most people say "yool-er" but it should be "oiler" (audio file). So assembly software takes an "Oil-air-e-an Path through a de Brown graph" :-)