How would linguists pronounce GIF, and why?
Oh dear, this is going to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I wish we could just accept our tomopotatine differences and be understanding of other ways of doing things and learn to live in harmony but sadly, it’s pronounced with a soft “g” you mindless misacronymers.
Let’s hear it from the other side first - that is, the people who likein believe it should start with the hard “g” of “misguided”. The most common argument in favour of the hard-g-gif is that GIF is an abbreviation for “graphics interchange format”, and should therefore be pronounced with the hard “g” of “graphics”.
The problem with this is that this isn’t how acronyms work: they’re pronounced according to typical word-pronunciation rules, which I went over recently. The most famous counterexample is JPEG, short for “Joint Photographic Experts Group”; by the logic of the hard-g-graphics argument, you should pronounce “JPEG” as jay-pheg instead of the mainstream jay-peg because of the “ph” at the beginning of “photographic”.
, in favour of the hard-gif, adds that most single-syllable English words spelled with a “g” use it to make the hard /g/ sound:
Gab. Gad. Gag. Gal. Gam. Gap. Gas. Gay. Get. Gig. Gill. Gimp. Gird. Girl.Give. Go. Goal. Gob. God. Gone. Gore. Got. Guide. Guild. Guilt. Gull. Gulp. Gum. Gun. Gust. Gut. Guy. The word “gift” is the closest word to GIF, and it has a hard G. To pronounce GIF, just say “gift” without the “t”.
The website then unconvincingly disregards gin, gem, gym, geo, and gel, saying that “gin” comes from Dutch which makes it ineligible for some reason, that “gem” comes from Latin gemma which also mysteriously renders it negligible, and that the latter three don’t count because they’re short for longer words.
These arguments shall not stand for those who know it is rightly pronounced with the soft “g” of “legitimate”. The soft-gif camp is well-known for having the original creator of the gif, Steve Wilhite, on our side. In his 2013 acceptance speech at the Webby awards, he offered these five words of wisdom:
I’ll let that stand for itself.In CompuServe’s FAQs, they clearly state that “The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF", was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.”
Besides this staggering monument of truth on the screen before ye, there are plenty of solid arguments for the softer pronunciation.argues that the soft-gif is unintuitive, and everyone says hard-gif on their first acquaintance with the acronym, so “jif” is wrong.
Not so, we say; there are plenty of immediately difficult words that we have to learn to say properly as we get older: yacht, chthonic, colonel, epitome,, draught, Worcestershire, and so on. There is no good reason that gif cannot be one of these - and, even there, it is ever as understandable as gin, whom the scheming tosses aside without reason.
We’ve every prescriptive reason to believe that soft-gif - the jif, the [d͡ʒɪf], the beacon of truth in the wars of the internet - is the one true pronunciation. It is with this that I close my case; do with it what you will.
Now, objectively, neither is especially correct. Both hard- and soft-gifs are in common use. Linguists are, asgoes over in more detail , supposed to describe how language is used, not how it should be used, so the question as it stands won’t help you any more than the discussion at .
This answer is largely tongue-in-cheek, as you might have guessed. I do use the soft-gif, but there’s no real problem with the other pronunciation. There are arguments for and against each, and I’ve lain out some above, but ultimately it comes down to what you and your friends want to say.
Cultures typically associate a “standard” pronunciation as a marker of status. Mispronouncing a word — even a technical term — can cause feelings of shame and inadequacy. If people believe there is a logical basis for their pronunciation, they are not apt to give it up.
[The NYT article cited here, by the way, has 145 comments.]
However, I still stick to my arguments in favour of soft-gif. To answer your question, both are objectively fine ways of saying “gif”, but if you pronounce it with a hard “g” I do think you’re very wrong indeed.
Thanks for asking!
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