Op-Ed: GIF vs. GIF – How do you pronounce it?

Op-Ed: GIF vs. GIF

How do you pronounce it?

From one of our first meetings, our team fell into the perennial debate of the “correct” way to pronounce GIF. In my 5+ years working online and with social media, I have watched as colleagues have hotly debated this acronym’s pronunciation in the real world.

Here to continue the debate is myself and one of my colleagues. We will each provide our quick case in support of the way we say GIF, and let you vote on who you agree with (or at least how you pronounce it).

GIF: pronounced GIF

Dating back to the 1980s GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and allows for short video like files of images to be looped on the internet – like this:

For years we were left to guess how to say this word that we all knew so well via our active use, we rarely had to say it out loud, but when we eventually did and were surprised to find that we did not all say it the same. Many people pronounced it with a hard “G” as in “Graphics” while some pronounced it with a soft “g” as in JIF peanut butter.

While the inventor of the GIF came out in 2013 saying:

“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

I say, “sorry sir, you waited too long.” While he may have birthed the GIF, he sent it out into the world with nothing, and the world took on the challenge of calling it something.

Acronyms stand for a series of words, and as the “G” stands for Graphics, it makes the most sense to pronounce it the same, just as you do in the word “gift.”

If you need an extended argument, here is a great article from Gizmodo: The Creator of the GIF says it’s Pronounced JIF. He is Wrong

GIF: pronounced JIF

Steve Wilhite, left, received a Webby Award from Tumblr's David Karp for his invention of the animated GIF format.

Honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from none other than David Karp of Tumblr on May 21, 2013, Steve Wilhite accepted the Webby for his 1987 invention of the GIF while employed at Compuserve.  As required by the Webbys, his acceptance speech consisted of only five words and they were:

jif GIF

Over the years, Mr. Wilhite had pushed the soft “g” pronunciation through many interviews which were less publicized than his acceptance speech.  He did not wait until recent years to clarify the pronunciation; he had done so all along, and for those who like my colleague believe Mr. Wilhite gave up his right to establish the correct pronunciation of the GIF due to some ambiguous statute of limitations,  I would posit, “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

gif not jif GIF

Finally, I would point out that Mr. Wilhite has said all along that, “Choosy programmers choose jif” referencing the 1977 ad campaign by popular American peanut butter company, Jif.  This reference clearly predates the invention of the GIF, and may in fact predate the internet itself.

I know for myself that I will be taking a respite from this heat and pouring myself a double of ice cold gin.