May 21, 2013

Graphics Interchange Format: Is It Pronounced ‘JIF’ or ‘GIF’?

The ever ubiquitous GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), developed in 1987, is a computer graphics specification that has lived a long and fruitful life. From an hour-long download to obtain a single GIF image back in the pre-World-Wide-Web Bulletin Board System (BBS) days, to animated GIF memes spread by social media, the format has a long life to live. — Just don’t use a hard “G” to pronounce it,  so says it’s inventor.

The New York Times — Among the thousands of file formats that exist in modern computing, the GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, has attained celebrity status in a sea of lesser-known BMPs, RIPs, FIGs and MIFFs. It was honored as a “word of the year” in 2012, and Tuesday night, its inventor, Steve Wilhite, will be accepting a lifetime achievement award at The Webby Awards.

He is proud of the GIF, but remains annoyed that there is still any debate over the pronunciation of the format.

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

I knew I was correct all those years ago, back in the early 90s, when I “originally” pronounced it as “JIF.”

Of course, there are the detractors, like this comment to the NY Times article:

This guy doesn’t get to write his own rules of English pronunciation. The acronym of Graphics Interchange Format would be pronounced with a hard “G” like the word “graphics.”

It’s worth noting that the most common word to begin with the letter sequence “gif” is “gift” and its related words (gifts, gifted, giftshop, giftwrap, etc.) No one would dream of pronouncing that with a soft “g” sound. Why should this be any different?

“Gif” with a soft “g” sounds like “JIF” which is a peanut butter brand. “Gif” with a hard “g” is short for Graphics Interchange Format.

– Kate

Where do you get off using logic like that! I happen to think my then 14-year-old brain choosing to pronounce it “JIF” trumps your sound reasoning. But alas I must admit that ultimately these things are out of the control of the owner/creator. Just as the public may attach it’s own consensus interpretation of a song, not originally intended by the songwriter, most people believe GIF is pronounced with the hard “G” not the soft “G.”

But Doc Brown might disagree.

What the hell is a [J]igawatt?

– Marty McFly

What the hell indeed.

Please share your thoughts