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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 like Sven Williams in his answer to this question 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 here. 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”.

Howtoreallypronouncegif.com, 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. Git! 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. Not convinced? 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. Howtoreallypronouncegif.com 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, syncope, 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 Howtoreallypronouncegif.com 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, as Daniel Ross goes over in more detail here, 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 How do you pronounce "GIF"?.

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!


This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.

Did you find this information useful? How do you pronounce GIF?

#language #Quora

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What are your thoughts on this subject?
17 Comments
Kathleen Conway
And how do you pronounce "WGAS?"
0
Aug 23, 2021 8:13AM
Penelope Harrison
Ian Swindale, hi Just looked it up it means a difference in pronunciation where both is acceptable. Bit highbrow for me!!
0
Apr 14, 2020 3:21AM
Fran
I didn't pronounce it either way, never had to say it to anyone. LOL. Mentally, I just looked at it as G-I-F. Didn't give it much thought.
0
Feb 27, 2020 5:31PM
Peter Robertson
QANTAS - we all say "kwantas" so it's knowing the derivation that counts? Then obviously that doesn't count for GIF. I actually didn't know what it was so I have learned something,if not how to pronounce it!
0
Nov 5, 2019 10:30PM
monicaligon
That was.....hmmm
0
Oct 17, 2019 3:13AM
Frank P. Araujo
A lot of yada-yada-yada about nothing. The "hard g" and "soft g" are the results of the intrusion of French in to written English after the Norman invasion The rest is just plain blather.
2
Jul 11, 2019 4:45PM
David Borgendale
This is probably the stupidest subject/argument I've ever heard.
2
Jun 30, 2019 4:18PM
Sidney Hays
Wth omg ???????
1
May 23, 2019 2:08PM
Michael Doherty
I think it should be pronounced SKIPPY.
3
Apr 19, 2019 5:31PM
Nancy Gardner
Thanks, I didn’t know how to say gif.
0
Apr 19, 2019 5:28PM
Fran Graybowski
GIF=JIF, like 'Jif' peanut butter?
0
Dec 24, 2018 6:54PM
Christine Cameron-Dow
Ian Swindale, I tried googling that word myself, and I suspect someone coined "tomopotatine" to indicate differences, as in "Let's call the whole thing off". IE, tomato, tomayto, potato, potahto, aubergine, aubergyne, etc etc.
0
Aug 18, 2018 5:36AM
Christine Cameron-Dow
there is already a word "gif", but it's Afrikaans. For instruction on how to pronounce it, go to this site: https://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/the/afrikaans-word-for-b7b2fb7443bcfed3bac3d67aca009e4a523bd3e3.html and type in "poison", requesting translation, and then click on the speaker symbol. It will tell you how to pronounce gif. As for the creator of graphic interchange formats, who reckons it should be pronounced "jif", it is very worrying how illiterate the children of the 4th Industrial Revolution are growing up to be. And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, my tongue is anchored firmly in my cheek.
0
Aug 18, 2018 5:25AM
Ian Swindale
I understood words like "and", "of", :the" etc but not much of the text and that's not a criticism which 1 exception - what on earth does "tomopotatine" mean? It's not in my dictionary.
1
Aug 17, 2018 4:47AM
Elsa Clarke Alyward
more useless information
3
Aug 16, 2018 11:20PM

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