How To Pronounce GIF

Updated February 4, 2022

The GIF is everywhere these days. Throughout internet forums and group chats, it’s an accepted form digital communication. We’ve become experts at selecting the right GIF for a given situation. But a lingering question remains regarding the GIF: how do you pronounce it? 

Some pronounce with a soft “j” as in “jiff”, while others go with the hard “g”, as in Kathy Lee Gifford. Who is right? The internet community is still split on the issue. We’ll get into the different viewpoints and then we’ll render our own verdict. 

But, first things first:

What is a GIF?

Officially, GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. It is distinctive from other digital picture formats in that it allows for moving images. Usually, a GIF is a short clip from a longer video. Common source material for GIFs include television shows, movies, cartoons, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Why is there disagreement on how to pronounce it? 

We can blame peanut butter for our linguistic dilemma. 

Steve Wilhite, who created the GIF back in 1987, uttered the now infamous phrase “choosy developers choose GIF”. If that sounds familiar, it should. Wilhite was borrowing a popular slogan from a Jiff peanut butter ad campaign. You may recall commercials running the tagline “Choosy Mothers choose Jiff”. 

Was Wilhite simply piggybacking off a catchy slogan in order to boost the publicity of his new invention? In an alternative universe without Jiff peanut butter, would he have made the same statement? We’ll never know for sure. Whether it was serendipity or a clever piece of marketing, the creator made his preference known. Not long after, the controversy began.

English language purists were quick to point out the the “jiff” pronunciation has no linguistic precedent in the Queen’s tongue. Every other word that contains a vowel between the letters “g” and “f” is pronounced with a hard “g”. 

Aaron Bazinet has been a vocal leader of the hard “g” camp. The web designer penned this online piece as a compelling argument for his side. The article makes the case that most people intuitively gravitate toward the hard “g” pronunciation. A list of thirty-three different one-syllable words starting in “g” – all pronounced with a hard “g” – help make his case. 

Who is right?

Soft “j” proponents have Wilhite in their corner, which has to count for something. Other than the creator’s endorsement, the best argument for the soft “j” boils down to linguistic ambiguity. One can point to many other words in the English language that with unique pronunciations, like “February” and “colonel”. And the last time we checked, giraffes are still a thing.

There’s also the fact that Romance languages like Italian are much fonder of soft “j” in words starting with “g”. Now that the GIF has gone global, one could argue that we need to expand our perspective beyond just the English language. 

The hard “g” argument has a lot of scholarly weight behind it. And at this point, the GIF has become a cultural icon far beyond what Wilhite originally envisioned. How long should we defer to the creator of the GIF? 

The natural tendency of English speakers to use the hard “g” can’t be ignored. With millions of people around the world using the hard “g” pronunciation, it would seem arbitrary to decide that they’re all wrong. 

The Verdict

After careful consideration of all of the relevant facts, we’ve come to the following decision regarding the pronunciation of GIF:

We’re going with the hard “g”. Bazinet’s natural language argument proved to be the deciding factor in our decision. But we’ll make one concession to the soft “j” folks – for those who have been saying “jiff” from the start can be grandfathered by a legacy clause.

We hope that satisfies everyone. Far be it from us to gin up more controversy.