GIFs are the increasingly ubiquitous animated images that have become the "aesthetic calling card of modern internet culture," as Amy O'Leary at The New York Times puts it. You know, something like this:
But as prevalent as GIFs are, the acronym's pronunciation remains one of those ongoing internet debates that, for whatever reason, simply refuses to die. And the argument has returned to center stage once again, this time thanks to someone who should know a thing or two about how to pronounce it: GIF's father.
Steve Wilhite created the Graphics Interchange Format in 1987 while working at CompuServe. Yesterday, he was honored at the Webby Awards for his sometimes-animated, sometimes-funny creation, which the Times notes is "a triumph of speed and compression," able to "move as fast as Internet culture itself." (For the record, Wilhite says the "dancing baby" GIF is his all-time favorite.)
But is it GIF with a soft "G" or a hard "G"? Here's where things get controversial. Per The New York Times:
"The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations," Mr. Wilhite said. "They are wrong. It is a soft 'G,' pronounced 'jif.' End of story."
As expected, bloggers bolted out of their chairs.
"He is wrong," says Casey Chan at Gizmodo, "If GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, does the 'Graphics' portion of the phrase point toward a hard-G in the acronym?"
"The creator of the GIF insists it's pronounced 'jif,' and no one will listen to him," says Kelly Faircloth at Betabeat.
Others, like Memeburn's Stuart Thomas, were more receptive to Wilhite's version of the truth. At least it "clears up a hell of a lot confusion," Thomas says.
Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic Wire succinctly argues that the whole debate is rather pointless: "Fighting over how to say the word is like arguing over the NEEther, NIther pronunciation," writes Greenfield, "which is just a really silly thing to spend our time doing."
TV writer Brendan Hay's take was more divisive:
"It's pronounced jif." - inventor of GIF"No, it's not." - inventor of the letter G— Brendan Hay (@B_Hay) May 22, 2013
The New York Times' international business editor Damon Darlin tweeted that "this should settle the GIF-JIF divide once and for all":
So: How do we pronounce GIF? As the latest spat illustrates, the answer should be clear: Let us never say it out loud again.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 11 weeknight dinners you can make without a recipe
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- How U2 became the new Nickelback
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
Subscribe to the Week