“Come see this Jif!” my friend yelled from the other room.
Confused as to why exactly I would be interested in seeing a jar of peanut butter, I briskly walked in to see what was so special about this particular jar. Turns out he was talking about the file type called Graphical Interchange Format, otherwise known as a GIF. You know — the one with a hard “g?”
On May 22, 2013, Steve Wilhite, creator of the then-26-year-old format, declared that the shorthand term for the format should be pronounced with a soft “g,” similar to how you would say a specific brand of peanut butter out loud. Now I have nothing against the thick-headed idiots who pronounce it with a soft “g,” but how could anyone in their right minds think that a computer file format could ever sound legitimate being named after peanut butter? Furthermore, if Wilhite really wanted it to be pronounced “correctly,” he should have made more of an effort to spread his pronunciation, oh, I don’t know — 26 years ago?
As stated before, GIF stands for Graphic Interchange Format. To be clear, “graphic” is pronounced with a hard “g.” It is not spelled, “jraphic.” To that, one may say that acronyms often do not adhere to their source words. However, it is not reasonably expected that every person on the Internet in its early days knew enough to research the 1987 CompuServe conference the GIF was introduced at and see its “correct” pronunciation. Linguistically speaking, words become part of a language as communities adapt them into common use, and it is not under anyone’s control what becomes the common pronunciation of a word — it is only what is usually the easiest or most popular way to pronounce it at the time. Therefore, even if Wilhite and his horde of peanut butter-loving programmers said GIF was to be pronounced a certain way, the booming of a new culture on the Internet outweighs someone proclaiming a pronunciation is correct “because I said so.” Even the Cambridge dictionary, for both its U.S. and U.K. pronunciations, cites GIF with a hard “g” as the correct pronunciation.
So now that you spent your time nobly serving your favorite brand of peanut butter, come on over and see the “GIF”t you have been given. We won’t get mad at you, though you should know that you have offended the letter “j” for stealing its sound and giving it to “g.” JPEG would like a formal apology.
If Wilhite truly wanted it to be pronounced “JIF,” he should have spelled it that way. And if his ruling didn’t convince you to pronounce it like peanut butter, another powerful source should — the White House. On their official Tumblr page, the White House made a small graphic that clearly says, “Animated GIFS (Hard ‘G’).” That is clearly law. You can’t argue with that. To quote Reddit user Enderkr, on a thread discussing Wilhite’s pronunciation declaration, “Stop trying to make ‘jif” happen. It’s never going to happen.” So while you’re busy getting over your loss in the battle of pronunciation, I encourage you to go buy some Skippy-brand peanut butter at the store, make yourself a sandwich and get over it.