On Tuesday, the New York Times published a story on Steve Wilhite -- the creator of the GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format -- being honored for his role in creating the ubiquitous file format back in 1987.
Its role on the Internet literally added color to the web, as previous web image formats were predominantly black and white. The GIF was responsible for the number of “under construction” animated images, and early Internet memes such as “Dancing Baby” that dotted the early World Wide Web. The GIF is perhaps most known for its modern resurgence -- the capturing of brief moments and reactions, such as Jennifer Lawrence’s sarcastic okay and thumbs up during a “Hunger Games” cast appearance, producing innumerable Internet memes. Despite the GIF’s pervasive presence on the Internet, an on-going debate still hasn’t settled down on one important thing: Is GIF pronounced “gif” or “jif?”
Wilhite attempted to settle the debate in the NYT piece by commenting about its pronunciation, noting that the Oxford English dictionary accepts both ways of pronunciation:
“They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
Here’s the thing: It’s not the end of the story, not by a longshot. The thing with words is they constantly evolve and take on new meanings and pronunciations. Take the word schedule, for instance. The British pronunciation traditionally uses “shed-ule” instead of “sked-ule.” In recent years, however, even some English speakers have switched to the American pronunciation, according to a 2010 study by the British Library.
John Wells, an emeritus professor of phonetics at University College London, told the Telegraph in an article published back in 2010:
“There are plenty of words in English which not everybody pronounces in the same way. There's no real way of determining what is correct other than looking at what is generally approved.”
Despite Wilhite’s statement about GIF’s pronunciation, this is an argument that won’t be settled anytime soon. A top comment on Reddit by user Enderkr illustrates the polarizing effect of the debate:
“Stop trying to make ‘jif’ happen. It’s never going to happen.”
That particular comment at the time this piece was being written was sitting at 10477 upvotes, and 7771 downvotes, illustrating that the debate behind the word’s pronunciation is still far from reaching a definitive consensus.
A web site dating back to 1998 takes the other side of the argument of GIF’s pronunciation, holding firm to the soft-g pronunciation of “jif.”
I could simply say we should just let bygones be bygones, but until this argument is settled, I stand firmly on the side that if the GIF’s creator wanted it to be pronounced “jif,” he should have figured out a way to spell the acronym in that manner.
With that said, I’ll leave “jif” as something I can add to my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and “gif” as my preferred pronunciation of the image format.