Yes, You Can Pronounce GIF With A Soft-G Or Hard-G, Settle Down, Francis


“Hey, can you send me that JIF file–”

“HA HA WHAT DID YOU SAY? DID YOU SAY JIF.”

“Yes, JIF file, it’s a–”

“HA HA LOLWUT IS IT A JRAPHICS INTERLACED FILE? I WAS THINKING OF HAVING SOME VEGETABLES TONIGHT, MAYBE SOME JREEN BEANS WITH MAYBE SOME JARLIC AS SEASONING. WHO SHOOTS FIRST, IS IT HAN SOLO OR JREEDO? WASN’T IT FORREST JRUMP THAT SAID LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES? HA HA HA YOU DUMDUM IT’S GIF, HARD-G, BRO. LIKE ME. A HARD-G.”

“Oh. Okay. Hold on I need just to push this button.”

*trapdoor opens under Mister Hard-G, and he feeds the alligators in the pit, and his last words are, BUT ARE THEY CALLED ALLIJATORS HA HA OHH GOD THEY’RE EATING MY INTESTINES*

So.

Let’s talk about this.

I ranted a bit on Twitter this morning but feel like this needs to be carved into the digital space that I own, aka, this blog.

I ran a BBS when I was a kid — a bulletin-board-system, for those baby nerds not in the know. I did this unbeknownst to my parents, actually; I had a phone line that I essentially took over and plugged into my computer so instead of talking to people on the phone like a normal teenager, I was Proto-Internetting with Local Randos as a SysOp. (Sidenote: parents, keep up with technology or your kids are going to be able to do loop-de-loops around you. Just a tip.) I ran a few different instances, Telegard, WWIV, and the names of the BBS changed from Shadowlands to Bizarroworld to — shit, I forget the others. Whatever! I was vaguely plugged into computers and proto-hacker culture, I modded my own computer, I hosted warez and early bitmap porn and all that fun stuff. I then later became a Systems Technical Manager or some shit — meaning I was a one-man IT department for a (get this) fashion merchandising company. I also ran web stuff for a company that was basically just an advanced form of illegal radio payola, I worked for an internet provider, I did a lot of techie stuff despite not having a real techie background (I went to school for readin’ and writin’ dontcha know, what with all these fancy bookmathings I put out.)

And I, along with the people I worked with, pronounced GIF file as JIF.

It’s just how everyone I knew said it.

JIF. JIF File. Like the peanut butter. Like the saying, back in a jiff.

And then somewhere in the last 10-15 years, from the Shadows of Mordor, arose a peculiar kind of pedantry about it — yes, the acronym stands for GRAPHICS INTERCHANGE FORMAT, and it was said, with great certain gusto (or jreat certain justo?) that because of that hard-G word at the fore, the acronym just also be pronounced with the same unswerving, unyielding G.

Like gravity, you could not fucking deny it. It was suddenly Nerd Law.

And that’s fine if you wanna pronounce it that way.

Just don’t lecture about it.

Here’s why:

You’re wrong.

Not about your pronunciation! Again, I don’t care how you pronounce it, long as people understand what you mean. You’re wrong about your logic — you are writing a logical check that the history of language cannot cash.

You are asserting that acronyms must be pronounced a certain way based on the pronunciation of the words that form that acronym.

So, what about YOLO?

You Only Live Once.

The O in Once is pronounced… Wuh. Wunce.

So, do you pronounce it YOLO?

Or YOL-WUH?

What about LASER? Yep, laser is an acronym.

It stands for:

Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

I’ll bet though that you pronounce laser with a z-sound for the s, right? But that’s wrong, by the logic of hard-G GIF, isn’t it? Should be pronounced lay-sser, like you’re Cobra Commander. (Or, if you’re really cuckoo bananapants about that pronunciation, layster.)

SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

But you probably say scooba not scuhbba, right?

What about…

JPEG?

That’s right, let’s talk about another graphical file format. The JPEG, like the GIF, is a pretty popular file format in the graphic/photographic space. And I’m gonna go ahead and make a brave, bold guess that you pronounce it JAY-PEG, right? And here you, imagined verbal sparring partner, will snarkily note that the G in JAY-PEG is that hard, turgid, erect ‘g’ because the G in JPEG stands for Group.

But what about the other letters?

JPEG = Joint Photographic Experts Group.

So, the P in JPEG is a soft Ph-sound, meaning, an F-sound.

So…

Surely, surely you will now pronounce it JAY-FEG, right? I mean, by your unswerving logic and infallible grammatical reality, you cannot possibly continue to pronounce it JAY-PEG, right? Except you will. Because that’s how people pronounce it.

Listen, I get it, in this day and age we like to have hard and fast answers about stuff, and we especially like to be haughty and know-it-ally when it comes to the English language, but the English language is a baby carriage stuffed with hot dogs, set on fire, and pushed down some steps toward a a bouncey-house full of schnauzers. It’s a fucking mess. Rough! Cough! Dough! Bough! Are any of those words pronounced the same? Why no, no they are not.

If I say JIF file and you say GIF file, we both understand what the other means, and that, ultimately, is the point. So, be not superior — soft-g or hard-g adherents — and accept that both ways are perfectly fucking fine, thankayouveddymuch.

Now please buy my books! Have you considered Damn Fine Story, which is pronounced Dammun Feen Storf, or Blackbirds, which is pronounced Fook-birbs, or maybe Invasive, which is pronounced Sir William Hottentot Schmeebly Fidget Junior? Have a great* day!

*jreat


32 responses to “Yes, You Can Pronounce GIF With A Soft-G Or Hard-G, Settle Down, Francis”

  1. Ha, we had a remote sysadmin who would always say, “jigabit”. We thought it was awesome (and hilarious), so my team all started saying, “jigabit”. Over time though it morphed from a tongue-in-cheek comment to NORMAL. It transformed our speech. Then, as these things do, it started to spread. My family started calling it “jigabit” too. My wife, used to hearing “jigabit”, corrected someone elses pronunciation from “gigabit” TO “jigabit”, and they went with it! Oh frabjous day!

    Anyway, yeah, English man. What’re you gonna do?

      • I blame Back to the Future for “jiga.” The novelizations of the sequels even spelled it with a J instead of a G, but I forget whether they rendered it “jigawatt” or “jigowatt.”

        As for .GIF, back in my Fidonet days, we had a saying: “Choosy perverts choose .GIF.” (For the insufficiently antiquated, it was a then-obvious play on the Jif peanut butter slogan.) I never saw ANYONE even mention the idea of using a hard G. Like Chuck says, that controversy was invented later. For those counting coup on timestamps, this was back when the GIF87 extension to the format was a new thing.

  2. I’d never think of pronouncing “GIF” as “JIF” because Jif is a cleaning product (they changed its name to Cif 17 years ago, but I refuse to conform) and if somebody said “SEND ME THE JIF” I would think, “Hey, that’s awesome, he wants to clean something!”

    But it wouldn’t bother me if I heard ‘jif’ as opposed to ‘gif.’ They’re just slightly different ways of saying the same thing.

    Jiffy is a very cool word, though. Back in a jiffy.

      • I knew a lady called Gillian who was happy to be called either Gillian or Jillian and swapped back and forth herself, apparently without even noticing which she was using.

        The thing which seems weird to me is that ‘j’ is officially the “soft” sound and ‘g’ is the “hard” one – when to me it sounds like ‘j’ is a much harder, forceful, teeth-clamping sound than the soft squishy back-of-the-throat ‘g’.

  3. I care how some acronyms, abbreviations, and initializations are pronounced but not others. I’m fine with both hard and soft g for GIF, but personally only heard hard g for a very long time. I’ve worked in graphic transforms since 1982 or so, in academic and professional environments, including time at Unisys, which held the patent. It was decades before I heard anyone pronounce it with a soft g. But I don’t much care about that one.

  4. I just kinda go with the pronunciation of the guy(s) who invented the GIF: SOFT G. I mean . . . Lincoln wrote “Four-score and seven,” but no one goes messing with his words and recites the GA as “Eighty-seven years ago . . . ”

    (Also, Chuck, none of those icons for logging in to comment seem to be working.)

  5. Also a WWIV (and so many others, and eventually my own software) BBS vet, and I pronounce it JIFF, because that’s what the dude said when he created it, and therefore, that’s how I learned it.

  6. Yep, old-timer too… Been working in jraphics for [mumble] years; I use a hard “G” but don’t jive a damn whether you do too! 🙂

  7. I didn’t think I could love you any more than I do, then you said “Settle down, Francis”.

    I’m another old-time nerd, and my nerd buddies & I all used the hard “g” & thought that the “j” sound was the new thing. Most of us didn’t care, and just ignored the ones who did.

    The one I cared about? Linux. I mean, the dude’s name is Linus, right? Ugh. Still bugs me. But whatever. You’re all wrong, but I accept it. Grudgingly.

    Back in the 70’s, SF folks haaaaaaaaaaaaated the term “sci fi”. Probably because we still called stereos (music listening devices) “hi fi” (for high-fidelity sound). Isaac Asimov wrote an entire editorial ranting about it (just google him). I spoke my mind to a dude at a convention who was wearing a “Sci-fi is not a dirty word” t-shirt.

    We lost. Suck it up, fellow nerds. Language is fluid and changing, and there’s no one authority on how shit is “supposed” to work, although there are many who claim they are The One.

    Now, off my lawn.

  8. It was only this week that I encountered “insigne” as the singular form of “insignia.” Then I looked it up, and discovered that ENGLISH HAS NO RULES!!! MADNESS!!! It turns out that “insignia” can be singular, or plural. But “insignias” can also be used as the plural, and “insigne” can be used as the singular… AND THEY’RE ALL EQUALLY ACCEPTABLE!

    What the fuck?

  9. I don’t know what’s wrong with you people. At my house, it’s an argument between Yiff (like the old English) and chif (like the ch in loch).

  10. I’m going to take a wild guess that most of the readers and commentators here know the two pronunciations of “Raymond Luxury Yacht.”

    • I thought there were three? “Raymond Luxury-YAWT’, ‘Raymond Luxury YACH-T,’ and ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove’?

  11. Also did the BBS thing way back in the aulden days – and since have done everything in IT aside from high-end C++ coding – always heard it pronounced it however whomever wanted to pronounce it because am an old and to me Jif will always first be peanut butter, whereas gif is not a hill to die on, so at best I’d do a head-tilt wondering if a co-worker was putting peanut butter with mayo up his nose again, then realize what (usually he, yes) was talking about. On the other hand, I give a flying hoo-hah what the inventor of the format says about its pronunciation because it just looks to me like I should pronounce it like graphics rather than giraffics plus linguistics degree so phonology plus English is weird because French so if I’mma pick a hill of pedantry to die on it’ll be the Oxford comma. So mostly commenting because my coffee just kicked in and this particular debate has always made me laugh. Thank you for the laughs, as always.

    • YES. Oxford comma. Thank you for bringing up the really important issues! Also, did all your friends send you that news article about how a lack of an Oxford comma cost a company millions in back pay? My social media was flooded, lol. (if you didn’t hear about it you should google it, it’s hilarious).

  12. First of all, thank you for reminding me of the old WWIV days. Ah, the Octagon, and the Loren Forest, and any number of other dumb WWIV boards with all the same people and the same warez as all the other WWIV boards. I never started one myself but only because we only had one phone line and my mom would’ve gotten mad. I’m glad you reminded me of those days not because they were so great, but because I was much younger then.

    But mostly, SWEET JESUS THANK YOU for confirming that this hogwash about the pronunciation is a *recent thing*. Within the past five to seven years, as far as I can tell, but you are probably closer to the center of internet pedantry than I am. I was starting to think I was being gaslighted.

    And also thank you for the examples of LASER and SCUBA and .JPG which are the same counter-examples I’ve been using. It’s like you mined my brain. Wait, are you mining my brain, or am I living in some sort of Truman Show thing? Wait… no… this can’t possibly go that deep.

    So, uh, yeah. Anyway, I enjoy your Twitter exchanges with Sam Sykes that my wife sends me every now and then, so thank you and good night.

  13. I wish we could harken back to a time when this, console preference and choice of OS were the harshest arguments I could find online. But then, I’m both really OLD and also really TIRED.

    For the record, I’m older than Chuck, also a techie, and we always knew it only as GIF. Which means absolutely nothing in terms of English or anything else. But I always thought that ‘jif’ was the new pronunciation. But when we started seeing them, the term was only one you’d see online in text form. Tim Berners-Lee was standing next to you telling you the intended name of the acronym. But honestly, as long as everyone knows what we’re talking about, it’s tomatO/toMAtoh IMHO.

  14. The only reason I say gif with a hard g is because, if you add a t to it, it becomes gift. Only reason. Honest.

    Now, how about taking on the “a or an” controversy in writing acronyms, i.e. do you consider what the acronym stands for or how you pronounce it when deciding which indefinite article to use?

  15. Putting on the pedagogical teacher hat for a moment, the whole reason grammar rules exist in the first place is that they are codified systems based on the natural patterns of speech. English is a constantly evolving language and grammar rules evolve to keep pace. For instance, Strunk was all about using “he or she” instead of “they” but while that might have flown a hundred years ago, that comes off as a backwards ass response that wrongly sees gender as a strict binary.

    All that to see if a large chunk of people say JIF while another large chunk says GIF, than the proper grammatical way to pronounce it is however you want to pronounce it. Besides, either way the person you are speaking to knows what you are saying and the purpose of language is effective communication, so graphaphonics are really low on the list of things that matter anyway.

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