There are i m p o r t a n t issues in the world, and then there are battles over the pronunciations of graphic formats on the Internet. A debate rages on whether GIF (an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, which are those animated images you find online) is pronounced with a hard g (as in gift) or a soft g (as in gin). This is important stuff, right? Actually, it’s not, but it’s an interesting case regarding language. Think of this sentence: Giant Geoffrey gave giraffes government gauntlets.
Last May, the creator of the file format, Steve Wilhite, came out and declared it in front of the world: “It’s pronounced JIF, not GIF.”
Then why not spell it JIF, you might ask? Obviously because the G stands for “graphics,” but JIF is its own file format (JPEG Interchange Format). Jif is also a brand of peanut butter, and those who are hardline hard-G defenders like to throw up a photo of Jif peanut butter whenever someone claims GIF is pronounced with a soft G. What do you call a GIF of Jif, anyway? A Jif JIF or a Jif GIF?
Personally, the hard G sound has always made sense to me. If the best movie ever made in the history of ever was named “Gurassic Park,” and someone told you it’s a soft G sound, you’d look at them like they were crazy because it’s against our understanding of how the letter G works. It doesn’t really matter, though. People in general (or is it jeneral?) are divided over the issue. The Los Angeles Times ran an online poll of 2,420 votes, with 62.19 percent favoring the hard G and 37.81 percent favoring the soft G. Even The White House entered the fray, declaring it a hard G.
Perhaps most interesting is what Elizabeth Pyatt, a linguist from Penn State University, told the New York Times about the debate: People are defensive about how they pronounce the word. Mispronouncing a word can make people feel ashamed or embarrassed, so they are defensive if they believe their way of pronouncing a word makes logical sense.
It doesn’t really matter, though. There is no consensus, so pronounce it as you wish. Here are a few fun facts: The file format PNG (Portable Network Graphics, also used for images) is meant to be pronounced “ping,” yet it’s common to pronounce it by each letter (P-N-G).
The Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam- Webster accept both pronunciations of GIF. Quiz show Jeopardy entered the fray with the question “The inventor of this image format said the OED wrongly has 2 pronunciations of it – the right one is with a soft ‘G.’” All of the participants got the question correct.
In the original documentation information released in 1987, the GIF creators specified the soft G sound.
Pronounce it however you wish, but the real issue here is that we really need the animated Daily Prophet newspapers from Harry Potter. Real-life GIFs. Andrew is a senior majoring in journalism. He goes to far too many concerts, suffers from severe wanderlust and takes pictures of things sometimes.