I can relate to acronyms and abbreviations much more readily when I actually know how they were derived.

It is oftn pssble to wrk out wht an abrvtion means if you know the the root words behind it... but unfortunately etc is a standard abbreviation for "et-cetera"... and for usr I think of "user"... but I can't see any correlation.

Most of the terse names in Linux actually make sense when I finally work out the expanded original normal words behind them..

Are the origins of these abbreviations lost in the mists of time, or are they "obvious" to all but me?

This question was prompted by a comment I read yesterday, where someone described these things as Linux incantations ... I sympathize with him :)...


As you suspected, /etc is from etcetera, unhelpfully named for "where everything else goes", and /usr was for "user applications". A lot of the detail on the history of the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard is documented on Wikipedia.

  • 1
    I'll check your link... but I've also heard that /etc meant Editable Text Configuration, and /usr means U(forget) System Resources(?)... It isn't anything critical, but I'd just like to know the original wording, way back when....
    – Peter.O
    Nov 4 '10 at 6:08
  • 12
    Editable Text Configuration seems to be a "backronym" and not the true origin.
    – Kees Cook
    Nov 4 '10 at 6:11
  • Okay... If the origina Bell-Labs comments says "etc" means et-cetera... I'm happy with that .... and Okay again for /usr meaning "(multi-)user utilities and applications" ... Thanks... I missed the forest for the trees...
    – Peter.O
    Nov 4 '10 at 6:17

I heard that /usr was for *U*nix *S*ystem *R*esources.

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    I don't think is was, but it is now! Nov 4 '10 at 9:37
  • Thanks... Ah, "Unix"; that's the one I had heard of and couldn't quite recall... I certainly now have meaningful phrases to associate with abbreviations :) ...
    – Peter.O
    Nov 4 '10 at 10:54
  • +1 That indeed seems to be the case: serverfault.com/questions/137605/…
    – Jonik
    Nov 4 '10 at 11:05

/etc is an abbreviation for etcetera, as I'm sure you guessed... It's the directory which stores all of your configuration files. /usr, as you guessed, is the directory where "user" files reside; it contains all of the items that are not part of the system itself such as user programs and data. System programs are stored in /bin, user programs in /usr/bin, or, in Ubuntu, in /usr/share/. TuxFiles has a good description of the Linux directory structure.

  • Dang, ninja'd! All yours, Kees. Nov 4 '10 at 6:02
  • The directory isn't "et-ceteras" in nature .. etc-cetera means "and sundries"... As far as I can see, there is anything but sundries in "/etc" ... I have heard (somewhere) that it means "Editable Text Configuration".. This makes sense to me, but I's still kike to know it that was the original meaning... (maybe Linus Torvals or Richard Stallman would know for certain :)
    – Peter.O
    Nov 4 '10 at 6:02
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    I can't see why either of those two people would know fred. I think the terms goes way back to Unix/POSIX and isn't a Linux or Gnu term. Nov 4 '10 at 6:12
  • They probably would, but the directory structure is actually a holdover from UNIX. We've developed in our methods of storing things; for example, /home/ isn't standard in UNIX or BSD directory structures, it's a new-ish development that is associated primarily with Linux. /usr/home is generally more common for old-style systems. It may have been that in the past /etc/ was used more for bits and pieces, but we've developed it to a more dedicated area for conf files. ask.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/03/03/028258 <- This slashdot thread has a post indicating this concept. Nov 4 '10 at 6:12
  • Thanks.. good info... I'll now think of /etc as "et-cetera"* with a lot of "Editable Text Configs" in it.... and /usr as "User system resources", because that's what it seems to hold.. I'll work with that mental image, unless someone points out that I'm off the track
    – Peter.O
    Nov 4 '10 at 6:36

The abbrevation "usr" of "/usr" does not mean user. That was only until 10 years ago or so. Since around 2000 it's now the abbrevation for "Unix System Resources".

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