A Life Lesson for Lindsey: The GIF Debate

By Viraj Shankar

Last week in chapel, Lindsey Zanchettin reminded us all of the universally known question that has torn families and friends apart, and has made the human race ponder our very existence: How do you pronounce the word GIF?


For those who do not know (I have NO idea how you don’t), a GIF, which stands for Graphics Interchange Format, is a format for image files which can support both animated and static images. They are frequently used to express emotion, especially on Twitter, or over texting. Over than 100% of the time, a GIF is capable of expressing your mood more than a traditional text would! But English is a weird language (just the spelling of the word weird in itself precisely explains why). Thus, a worldwide debate has sprung up about how GIF is pronounced.

There are two sides to this bitter civil war. The first declares that the G in GIF is a ‘soft’ G, so the word should be pronounced ‘jif’. But many others disagree, and believe that the G in GIF is a ‘hard’ G, making the pronunciation of the word ‘gif’.

This debate began to spark an international outcry when Steve Wilhite, inventor of the GIF itself, pronounced the word ‘jif’ when onstage at the Webby Awards, where he was receiving a lifetime achievement award. This shocked people who had always pronounced the word with a hard G. Soon, people were up in arms, and a roaring conflict ensued on Twitter.

A major development in the GIF-JIF battle occurred when Steve Wilhite later declared with five simple words, “It’s pronounced JIF not GIF”. The ‘JIF’ believers felt vindicated, while the “GIF” believers felt utterly betrayed. However, at the time, even the Obama administration weighed in, announcing that “GIF” was, in fact, pronounced with a hard G, prompting even more chaos.

According to the editor of the Oxford English dictionary, it is appropriate and fully correct to pronounce GIF either way, and Elizabeth Pyatt, a linguist at Penn State has said the debate is not likely to end anytime soon.

So the world must go on, and life must continue. But we can only hope that, one day the seemingly endless debate of how to pronounce GIF will finally be concluded.

Sources: https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/battle-over-gif-pronunciation-erupts/

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