GIF: In Defense Of The Soft G

By Mikah Sargent | March 22, 2016

Every time I write a story for Newsy that in any way references the GIF, a debate breaks out. I pronounce GIF with a soft G — like giraffe, or Geronimo, or gesture. Some of my co-workers pronounce GIF with a hard G — like gift, or golf, or good.

Truth is, I used to be one of those hard-G pronouncers, but I’ve since become an enlightened soft-G pronouncer. Here’s why I think you should join me:

Let’s say you create a dating app that rates users based on their kissing abilities. You’ve got to come up with a modern, catchy name, and you settle on “Cissed,” pronounced “kissed.” Cissed climbs the charts, and suddenly everyone is using your app. Then you hear it: Someone mispronounces your app, your creation. They think it’s pronounced “cyst”; everyone thinks it’s pronounced “cyst”!

If you went through that (admittedly dramatic) thought exercise with me, you can probably see where I’m going with this: When someone chooses a name for something, they should, A) choose a better name than “Cissed,” and, B) get to dictate the pronunciation of the name.

Enter this video:

That’s Steve Wilhite, inventor of the Graphics Interchange Format (or GIF), winning a lifetime achievement award. He uses his time on stage to display a GIF that settles the debate once and for all: “It’s pronounced ‘JIF,’ not ‘GIF.’”

If a GIF straight from the horse’s mouth isn’t enough to convince you, there’s still more evidence out there. A 2011 article from The Atlantic took a deep dive into the GIF’s past and found a support document from the company that controlled the image format. From CompuServe’s Frequently Asked Questions document:

“The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced ‘JIF,’ was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.”

And it doesn’t stop there, friend. When I Googled “pronounce GIF” to research this here article, the fourth result took me to “The GIF Pronunciation Page,” which documents several pieces of evidence in support of the soft G. I was particularly drawn to a quote by a purported co-worker of GIF creator Wilhite, who said the following in an October 1997 web article:

“Steve always pronounced it ‘jiff’ and would correct those who pronounced it with a hard G. ‘Choosy developers choose GIF’ (spinning off of a historically popular peanut butter commercial).”

And here — in all its glory — is that very commercial:


There will always be those naysayers (or should I say gif-sayers?) who suggest because they’ve pronounced GIF with a hard G (goat, Gary, gallup) their entire life, it’s the correct way to do it. Even the White House shared its preference — sadly, President Obama is a hard-G pronouncer.

Some will argue because GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and graphics is pronounced with a hard G, it must be GIF. But YOLO (You Only Live Once) isn’t pronounced YOL-WUH, despite the pronunciation of “once.”

In the end, I implore you to consider the thought experiment from before. If you created the widely popular GIF, wouldn’t you want it pronounced the way you intended?

Choosy pronouncers choose JIF.