Is it ‘gif’ or ‘jif’?

It is impossible to mandate language usage and saying that there is a ‘correct’ way to say or pronounce something is to invite endless challenges. This is true even if the word is a neologism of recent origin and the creator of the word tells you what they intended.

This is the case with the word written as ‘gif’, the acronym for Graphic Interchange Format. One hears both ‘jif’ and ‘gif’ (with a hard g) and the Oxford English Dictionary accepts both. Stephen Wilhite disagreed. He should know. He was the creator in the 1980s of this software that enabled the sharing of quality graphics even in the age of dial-up modems, that he shortened to the familiar acronym.

He died last month at the age of 74 and this article points to his acceptance speech when in 2013 he was honored with a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award where he announced his view in dramatic fashion.


  1. flex says

    If we did that, we’d have to correct our pronunciation of Mt. Everest.

    I’ll continue to use a hard g.

  2. flex says

    One more thing.

    There is a hard g in Graphic, and using a j sound confuses it with peanut butter.

  3. Holms says

    People that coin a word do not have authority over it. Pronunciation is determined by common use, and hard g gif is the most prevalent, probably because hard g the prevalent treatment of words that begin with a g-vowel-sound. Counterexamples abound, giraffe being a good example as it shares the first letter and similar vowel sound, but they are simply less common and so less habituated in English speakers.

    Sorry, Stephen!

  4. robert79 says

    I propose we call it a “jif” with a soft “j” (as in ‘young’) just so we can simply annoy everyone!

    Other options:
    -- a Dutch hard ‘g’ (I don’t think it it has an English analogue, some people say it’s the sound you make when you’re choking, I disagree…)
    -- a southern Dutch soft ‘g’ (still no English analogue, just less choking)

  5. Jörg says

    A monolingual US-American earnestly once told me at a Linux conference how we Europeans pronounce ‘Linus’ (Torvalds). Sadly it only came to me later that I should have asked him how to pronounce ‘David Dunning’ and ‘Justin Kruger’.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    “This is the jift that keeps on giving.”
    Don’t you mean jivving?

  7. says

    Tom Scott covered this a year ago. I say it with soft G, but pronunciation doesn’t matter. What matters is clarity and comprehension. When you see GIF, there’s no debate or confusion about *what* it is, unlike “crooked”, “object”, “learned”, “invalid”, or “beloved” which change meaning depending on pronunciation.

    As for the file format, in the early days of the web when bandwidth was mostly dialup and audio was a wasteful luxury, never mind video. The compactbess of animated GIF files was a boon. Even though it has severe limitations (e.g. only 256 colours), I doubt the GIF will ever disappear, not as long as stuff like memes and reactions remain popular.

  8. John Morales says

    Only comes up because of the vagaries of English.

    In any somewhat regular language where orthography followed pronunciation, ‘gif’ would be pronounced like ‘gift’, only without the ‘t’ sound at the end.

    (and similarly with ‘gi’)

  9. tuatara says

    In Yolngu Matha (ancient indigenous language group from northern Australia) there are three different pronunciations of the T sound.
    They are:
    th -- not like ‘the’ but like ‘T’ with the sound slightly pushed because the ‘h’ in the written version indicates the tongue in the interdental position.
    t -- like one would imagine in English with the tongue tapping the gum-ridge behind the upper incisor teeth.
    Underlined t -- underlined in the written version -- which is pronounced with the tongue tip curled back as it taps slightly further back on the gum-ridge.
    The ‘T’ sound is only one of several with these three positions available.
    Using the wrong tongue position can change the meaning of the word being spoken.
    New Zealand Maori has a smaller set of sounds available than many other languages, (with no s or c, j or z or x or q, or g on its own -- it is always attached to an n so is ng and pronounced if you will by holding the back of the tongue and the soft palate together and often the first syllable of a word) and many words differ merely in the pronunciation of the vowel sound. Again, a mis-pronuncuation of the word can turn it from innocent chatter to a nasty insult.

    GIF is of course an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, the spoken version being born of what one imagines was firstly a written word. It seems strange to me that the intended pronunciation does not mirror that fact that graphics begins with a hatd g sound. It is not jraphics after all.

  10. fentex says

    He is just wrong -- he may imagine ‘gif’ spells jiff, but it doesn’t.

    Which is weird, because there are english words which do start with a soft g -- i.e giraffe.

    Yet it’s obvious to a native engish speaker gif does not, and I imagine that’s because jiff already exists as a word
    indeed several use it at their start -- in this being a new word probably prevents it’s usurping existing usage.

  11. Ketil Tveiten says

    «Gif» is originally an Old English word, the precursor of the modern English «if». It was pronounced «yiff». Case now closed.

  12. says

    If you invent or create something, you get to name it. That’s a pretty simple idea that goes back to author’s rights. I honestly do not understand why people would get so upset that their pronunciation of an acronym should take precedence over the creator’s. An important characteristic of effective communication is that it be consistent. If you have an authoritative source, why not use it? If that’s what the author wants, that’s how I’m going to pronounce it.*

    Besides, I thought most people abandoned GIF in favor of PNG years ago. (And I’ve never heard someone not refer to it as P-N-G, instead of trying to pronounce it as a word, like “ping”, which reminds me of how Apple tried to get people to pronounce SCSI as “sexy” instead of the common “scuzzy”, but now I date myself).

    *Obligatory Python reference: “It’s spelled ‘Luxury-yacht” but it’s pronounced ‘Throat warbler mangrove'”

  13. Marja Erwin says

    Most people pronounced it “dzhif,” so I don’t think cmmn usage favors “gif” or “jif.”

    I pronounce it “jif” or “yif,” and block animated ones because, like so much web design, they’re migraine triggers and seizure risks.

  14. blf says

    I tend to pronounce it “patent-encumbered garbage”, albeit that is quite dated, as the relevant patents expired over a decade ago. (It’s still garbage.)

  15. Holms says

    #19 jimf
    If the author names something with a spelling that suggests a particular pronunciation, but insists that its pronunciation is something else, then they have abandoned the consistency in existing pronunciation conventions. Your Python reference stands as an excellent example by exaggeration.

    #20 Marja
    You are the first person I’ve heard or seen suggest a pronunciation other than gif or jif. Though I do enjoy the fact that to convey the hard g pronunciation with your phonetic examples, you simply spelled it with a g.

  16. says

    @Holms 23, If the author names something with a spelling that suggests a particular pronunciation, but insists that its pronunciation is something else, then they have abandoned the consistency in existing pronunciation conventions.

    True, but he didn’t do that. There are numerous examples in English of a soft g (j). Off the top of my head, giant, giraffe, geology, gyrate, gender, gymnasium, gerontology…

    And even if he declared that GIF should be pronounced “broynk”, he’s the creator and gets to name it. You don’t get to vote on what to call the works of authors anymore than your neighbors get to vote on what you name your child.

  17. Holms says

    Yes there are counter-examples to the prevailing conventions, yet that does not change the fact that the conventional pronunciation of words beginning with gi- is with a hard g. And naming something does not grant authority over pronunciation, when the spelling of the name suggests something else. Again, see your Python reference for an example.

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