It’s settled! Creator tells us how to pronounce ‘GIF’

Doug Gross, CNN
By Doug Gross, CNN
updated 5:11 PM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013 | Filed under: Web
Steve Wilhite, left, received a Webby Award from Tumblr's David Karp for his invention of the animated GIF format.
Steve Wilhite, left, received a Webby Award from Tumblr’s David Karp for his invention of the animated GIF format.

  • GIF creator: It’s pronounced “JIF”
  • Steve Wilhite created the Graphics Interchange Format in 1987 at Compuserve
  • He pronounced the issue closed at the Webby Awards
  • And yet, some partisans remain unswayed

(CNN) — We can’t settle iPhone vs. Android or “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek” for you. But another long-running geek debate was put to rest Tuesday night.

Those short, animated loops that have captivated the Web for decades? They’re pronounced like a brand of peanut butter.

Steve Wilhite created the Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, while working for Compuserve in 1987. On Tuesday, he received a Webby Award for it and delivered his five-word acceptance speech (that’s all the Webbys allow) by flashing a GIF on the big screens at the Cipriani Wall Street in New York.

And, in a flash, it all became clear:

“It’s pronounced JIF, not GIF.”

Of course, in the grand tradition of heated debate, a flat statement of fact by the creator wasn’t enough to sway some partisans. On Twitter, “GIF” became a trending topic as some folks pushed back.

“Graphics Interchange Format. Graphics. Not Jraphics. #GIF #hardg,” wrote Web designer Dan Cederholm.

“So instead of GIF, we’ve got to say JIF? YEAH RIGHT,” chimed in October Jones, creator of the “Texts From Dog” Tumblr and book. “And I suppose those animals with long necks are called ‘JIRAFFES.'”

And, of course, the peanut butter brand was getting lots of free publicity along the way. The always amusing HAL 9000 account (yes, somebody tweets as the robot from “2001”) posted an “animated JIF” — which is to say, a swirling, animated jar of the tasty, high-protein spread.

So, it’s perhaps no surprise that the company got into the act itself. Wednesday afternoon, the company took to Twitter with a post reading, “It’s pronounced Jif® .” The tweet linked to, what else, a multi-colored GIF flashing the same phrase.

Animated GIFs were a staple of the early Internet. Remember The Dancing Baby? That’s a GIF.

They fell out of favor as more advanced graphics technology emerged. But in the past couple of years, the Web has remembered how much fun it is to watch ridiculous things happen over and over again.

Appropriately, Wilhite received his Lifetime Achievement Award from David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, one prominent place where GIFs found a new fanbase.

In less publicized interviews, Wilhite had argued for the soft-G pronunciation for years. So, will a widely covered “speech” in front of some of the Web’s most influential folks finally be the turning point?

Maybe not.

Last month, no less an authority than the White House posted an image on its new Tumblr feed advocating for the hard-G. And the Oxford English Dictionary says both pronunciations are acceptable.

So, here’s wishing Mr. Wilhite “Jood Luck.”


tspherix · November 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I’ve always pronounced GIF like “JIF”, but I also spell out GUI like G. U. I. however many pronounce it like “gooey.” Interesting. A win it is, I suppose. Unless he really is being sarcastic. I doubt it though.

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I will have to start forcing myself to say ‘Jif” correctly! The man made da ting, he should be able to pronounce it like he wants too! 🙂

I wonder if there is an alternate universe article that states that the inventor of the phrase “see you in a jiffy” is actually pronounced “giffy”? That would be a little bit more troubling.

I DO like “Gooey” for GUI, but wonder if it is presumptuous, since it is combining 3 words into a single sound, but it follows the phonics of GIF, so it should be ok.

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