Along with whether or not Al Gore invented the Internet, figuring out the correct pronunciation of GIF is one of the earliest questions of the Internet. I grew up believing it was hard-G GIF. Most people I know pronounce it like that too. Even the White House agreed on pronouncing GIF like ‘gift’. But we have to re-evaluate the whole argument again because the inventor of GIF—PAPA GIF Steve Wilhite—says its pronounced JIF. What. The. Hell.
Steve Wilhite, who is accepting a lifetime achievement award at The Webby Awards, told the NY Times how annoyed he was at the debate over the pronunciation of GIF:
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
You hear that? They are wrong. He’s saying we, the people of America, are wrong. It is a soft ‘G’, pronounced ‘jif’. Sir, why did you not name it JIF like the peanut butter then! End of story. I have long thought the story was over too, but I’m guessing we’re reading different books.
But he is Papa Gif, and parents have a certain amount of right over the things they bring into this world. If you want to name your kid Dwyane instead of Dwayne like Dwyane Wade, go ahead (but it’s still pronounced duh-wayne). And also, Wilhite isn’t exactly wrong in his thinking. The hard-G pronunciation of the letter G usually comes when a, o, or u follows it (think gas, good, or guy). We pronounce G’s as the soft-G when i, e, or y follow it (think giraffe, German, or analogy). There are exceptions of course, but in general practice, Wilhite has his point. GIF is followed by an I.
The problem with Wilhite’s thinking is how we see acronyms. Are they their own words or do they stand for something? Is BBC a word? Buhbuhck? Or is it B-B-C. If you combine the letters into a word, how does jay-peg for JPEG make sense as opposed to juh-peg? If GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, does the ‘Graphics’ portion of the phrase point toward a hard-G in the acronym? It gets confusing, I know.
But the clearest difference for me is that there are things pronounced JIF and not spelled GIF already. The peanut butter comes to mind. Jiffy Lube. Back in a jiffy. If you want to pronounce GIF like JIF, spell it JIF (that’s also the JPEG Interchange Format, so I can see why maybe not). If you spell it with a G and use it as an acronym for the word Graphics, if there are words like gift, girl, give, Gizmodo and many more gi- words being pronounced with a hard-G and if the President of the United States of America decrees that GIF is GIF and not JIF, well then, you are wrong. Even if you are the father.