Man on Campus: How Do You Pronounce GIF?

(COVINGTON, La.) There is a raging debate on campus about the pronunciation of GIF. A GIF is a digital image file which derives its name from its suffix, .gif. This file type is widely used for its ability to present moving images rather than simple static images. Many people use GIFs every day, but no one can agree on how to pronounce the name. Opinions vary widely, but most people fall into one of two camps: hard g and soft g. We took to the grounds of St. Paul’s to ask students from each grade level what they think, and you can add your own opinion in the poll below.

This GIF of senior Jack Bonaldi demonstrates the ability of images to move. It and other GIFs are displayed after football plays by the St. Paul’s scoreboard and @ThePaperWolf. (Image: Guerrilla Wolves)

A variety of rationales exist to justify one claim or the other. The acronym GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and the hard g in “graphics” suggests that the word GIF might be pronounced with a hard g. Many people cite the English language adage that when a vowel comes after a g, it is soft. However, there are so many exceptions to this rule that it seems imprecise. Merriam-Webster dictionary lists both the soft g and the hard g pronunciations, which further confuses the issue.

The GIF was first used in 1987 by the online service provider CompuServe as an efficient way of displaying color images. The development of the GIF file was led by engineer Steve Wilhite. According to Wilhite, the proper pronunciation is with a soft g. This was supposed to sound like Jif peanut butter as a linguistic joke.

The GIF was once the standard color image file in wide usage due to its efficient compression and quick download speed, until it was replaced by the PNG file. Today, GIFs are experiencing a resurgence. Many websites which previously displayed moving images with Adobe Flash Player are replacing their Flash content with GIF images in response to the growing usage of smartphones, which do not support Flash.

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