• Nicholas Shereikis

How to pronounce GIF

GIF is pronounced 'jif.'


Still with me? Good. For many, that statement alone is heresy. Just over 50 percent of people pronounce the word with a hard g—statistically, you're probably one of those people, in which case it's even more important that you read this piece.



Let's get one thing clear right off the bat: Even though GIF originated as an abbreviation of Graphics Interface Format, it's no longer an acronym. We use it in its own right⁠—rather than saying each letter differently⁠—making it an initialism. I'll explain why that's important in just a moment, but for now, you can go ahead and mentally shelve that information for later.

The 'G' in GIF

Pointing out that 'graphics' begins with a hard g is a classic starting point for these debates, since it immediately undermines any other pronunciation. After all, nobody says 'jraphics,' right?


Wrong. Well, right that nobody says 'jraphics,' but wrong that that's any kind of valid argument. The reason the word 'graphics' uses a hard g is because the rules of grammar that govern pronunciation dictate it should⁠—so let's take a closer look at those rules.

If the letter g is followed by an e, i, or y, the pronunciation is soft:


g and i: magic, margin, origin, engine

g and e: page, generation, detergent, vengeance

g and y: astrology, Egyptian, gym

But if the letter is followed by any other letter, pronunciation is hard:


g and anything else: gazebo, glove, gaze, go, grab, gum

So our rules for pronunciation support the use of a soft g rather than a hard one, since the g in GIF is clearly followed by an i. Obviously there are exceptions to this, like the words 'gift' or 'give,' but in these cases pronunciation is dictated by etymology. So what's the etymology of GIF?

Etymology

Easy: Graphics Interface Format inventor Steve Wilhite coined the term GIF. He also declared that he intended it to be pronounced 'jif.'


Pretty straightforward. Of course, you could make the counterargument that usage drives definition⁠—if most people understand what you mean when you say something, correctness is irrelevant, right? Here, though, you muddy the discussion even more. We misuse language and speak in slang regularly, but don't consider it proper English regardless of communicative comprehension.

GIF isn't an acronym

Now, remember our guiding principle here: GIF isn't an acronym. It's different from other common abbreviations; we don't pronounce each letter like we do with ATM or ADHD. Consequently, GIF is now an initialism—as Wilhite intended when he first used the term—and so is pronounced as its own word.

GIF is pronounced 'jif'

Unofficially, you can pronounce GIF however you want. I won't correct you.


Officially, those lobbying for hard g pronunciation are wrong—which would be fine, except that they're generally disproportionately aggressive about it. If you compulsively try to correct others about this, you need to stop, because you're wrong.

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