Is it pronounced GIF or JIF?
How do you pronounce GIF? Is the G hard, like as in the word ‘GIFT’, or soft, like your momma? What does the dictionary, or the dude who actually invented GIFS, actually have to say on the matter?
Way back in the obscure mists of internet history – 1987, literally last century – a man named Steve Wilhite developed a clever new file format that enabled the efficient sharing and posting of images.
Lo and behold, the GIF – which stands for ‘Graphics Interchange Format’ – was born.
Almost four decades later, while other formats from that same era have become long forgotten – BSAVE? ILMB? – the GIF is still going strong, effectively conveying everything from dank-ass memes to convenient short-form pornography.
GIF ORIGIN STORY
Steve Wilhite was a computer scientist working at CompuServe during the late 1980s. At the time, a popular brand of peanut butter called Jif was all the rage.
As one of your typical eighties computer programmer’s three chief sources of nourishment – alongside Marlboro Reds and flat Mountain Dew – Jif peanut butter loomed large in Wilhite’s imagination.
A popular ad campaign for Jif, at the time, said ‘choosy moms choose Jif’. So our man Steve included in the technical specifications for his new format the immortal joke ‘choosy developers choose GIF’.
GIF JIF CONTROVERSY
You’re probably thinking, WTAF dude, it’s so obviously GIF. Like, as in ‘gift’ or ‘gills’.
Aha, but what about ‘gin’ or ‘giraffe’?! Well, shut up, because the ‘G’ in ‘GIF’ stands for ‘Graphics’, which is pronounced with a hard-‘G’.
Otherwise it’d be ‘Jraphics’ which is the stupidest thing ever.
Well, what about the JPEG file format? The ‘P’ stands for ‘Photograph’, so by that same logic ‘JPEG’ should be pronounced ‘JFEG’.
This controversy, by the way, is nothing new. As long ago as 1994 the debate was already raging, with an encyclopedia author referencing how ‘most people’ seem to prefer saying a different way than the GIF godfather instructed: GIF.’
In 2023, the prestigious Oxford Dictionary chose ‘GIF’ as its word of the year. Although it wimped out of committing to one or other pronunciation, noting ‘GIF may be pronounced with either a soft G (as in giant) or a hard G (as in graphic)’
The Obama administration had no such qualms, taking (as ever) a wise, considered position of the matter via it’s Tumblr page: ‘Animated GIFs (HARD G)’.
When Steve Wilhite won the 2013 Webby lifetime achievement award, his five-word acceptance speech was literally: ‘It’s pronounced JIF, not GIF’.
Does that settle the matter? Not really. The way language works, see, is that people get to choose what works for them. Mount Everest is named after a British colonial-era guy called George Everest (pronounced ‘Eve-rest’).
There’s been proper surveys carried out to settle the matter. A survey of over 1,000 Americans were asked whether they pronounce GIF as ‘jiff’ or ’giff‘ and ‘giff’ easily beat ‘jiff,‘ nearly 54% to 41%. The survey was conduced by eBay Deals and a digital marketing agency.
An informal poll of developers using Stack Overflow revealed that 65.6 percent of respondents preferred the hard g pronunciation, while 26.3 percent used the soft g, 6 percent sounded out every letter, and 2 percent employed a different pronunciation entirely.
So what can we learn from this knotty issue? That the world is a bewildering place, language is unknowable, there is no God, and every single time we open our mouths we make at least half the population of the planet hate us.
Besides, the French pronounce it ‘Jeef’.
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