~/imallett (Ian Mallett)

How to Pronounce ".gif"
by Ian Mallett

Historically (i.e., the last ten, twenty years), "gif" has been pronounced [gɪf] ("hard g" as in "gift"). There may have been a few people who thought it was [ʤɪf] ("soft g" as in "gin"), but mostly it was a hard "g".

It came to somewhat mainstream attention, then, when it was purported that the original inventor of the .gif file formats pronounced it with a soft "g". This prompted a conflagration that eventually culminated in a bunch of people switching over. Today, it is generally accepted that the soft "g" is correct.

It's time for me to be wrong again. I call BS.

There's several problems with this. First: gif didn't have a single inventor, and the primary source is actually a quoted line from version 8.33 of a FAQ document that accompanied a release in 1987:

The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF", was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.
The pronunciation is mentioned in passing, but I'll admit it looks pretty official.

There's a lot of things it could mean. It's possible, for example, that someone slipped this in as a joke (since the soft pronunciation was intended as a joke, this seems plausible). However, let's assume that these two words within one line within a FAQ document written three decades ago for a precursor to the standard developed by a now different company somehow represents the serious consensus of all of the original authors today.

That doesn't mean it's not stupid.

In English orthography, "g" more often than not represents a hard "g". There are exceptions, but the majority of words have a hard "g": words like "get", "git", "god", "good", "guess", "grievance", "Gettysburg", "green", etc. The exceptions are relatively recent additions from other languages: words like "gem" (French), "gin" (Dutch, French), "gesture" (Church Latin), etc. In some sense, words with a hard "g" are more fundamentally English.

Maybe you don't care. Fine. Let me tell you about another word. This word comes to English from ancient Greek via ancient Latin. It's a very English word. And, it happens that everyone agrees how to pronounce it. Ready? The word is "graphics", and every Kindergärtner knows it has a hard "g". Do you know what the first word of the acronym of "gif" is? It's that very same word, "graphics".

So pronouncing "gif" like "jif" is sort of like saying you're saving your images in the "giraffe-ics interchange format", which is retarded.

My point is that what somebody declared 30 years ago about a file format should not be taken as divine law. Especially when he was referencing peanut butter.

If you want to say it with a soft "g", linguists will laugh at you. Lexicographers will laugh at you. Anyone who understands acronyms will laugh at you. Maybe you'll be "right" in the sense that some coder in the 1980s agreed—but you're wrong in the sense of being reasonable. That's your prerogative. And if you try to "correct" others about the usage, you may continue to do so on those grounds—but you must realize the other side has a good (and I think better) argument.


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