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GIF creator receives honor, still chafes at mispronunciation

By dpreview staff on May 22, 2013 at 17:56 GMT

If you've ever wondered who to thank (or blame) for those 8-bit animated graphics that have managed to remain relevant even on today's high-bandwidth Internet, Steve Wilhite is your man. Working at CompuServe in 1987, Wilhite used his knowledge of compression technologies to create the GIF format that allowed for color graphics to be used efficiently in the days of dial-up Internet access. Wilhite received a lifetime achievement award at this year's Webby Awards and took the oportunity to once again remind us how 'GIF' should be pronounced.

In an interview with the New York Times, Wilhite says, 'It is a soft "G", pronounced "jif". End of story.' You can see Wilhite's GIF-enabled Webby Award acceptance 'speech' (introduced by Tumblr's David Karp) on YouTube.

Comments

Total comments: 159
12
craigvolpe
By craigvolpe (10 months ago)

Funny how everyone insists that GIF must be pronounced with a hard G because the G stands for graphics and some supposed rule about acronym pronunciation. If said rule was true, wouldn't MOMA be pronounced "mumma", and ROM be pronounced "rome"?
AIDS would be pronounced "uh-ids".
SCUBA would be pronounced "skuh-bah" as in scuttle and bat.
LASER wouldn't have a Z sound in it.
UNICEF wouldn't have an S sound in it.
I could go on but I think I've made my point.

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (10 months ago)

Its G as in graphics. To pronounce it Jif is just strange.

0 upvotes
Serban Alexandru
By Serban Alexandru (11 months ago)

While a number of comments are truly funny, here's a problem: In my native language, the word GIF is pronounced the way its author intended it: JIF, as in Jimmy. In fact, the sound is identical with the one in JPG - again in Romanian.
This is more or less common place for all Latin languages.
Besides having part of the world on the author's side, when you're laughing at the guy, think how you Anglo-Saxons pronounce "Gymnastics".

0 upvotes
rallyfan
By rallyfan (11 months ago)

A couple colleagues read about this on a news site. They're still laughing at the guy.

0 upvotes
LarryK
By LarryK (11 months ago)

I juess that makes me a jraphic designer.

JIF is peanut butter as far as I care.

0 upvotes
LaFonte
By LaFonte (11 months ago)

I am jlad that someone finally jot me straijht in pronouncinj jif.

3 upvotes
tbcass
By tbcass (11 months ago)

Why do people care so much about the pronunciation (author included)? It's not important. It's an acronym. I've always said "G-I-F".

Comment edited 45 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
marosini
By marosini (11 months ago)

nice language.. 148 educated people discussing about a letter pronunciation.
Ops.. 149, I'm in.
You won't mind, but ..by the way, in Italy we generally use the soft form.
Regards. :)

1 upvote
jaygeephoto
By jaygeephoto (11 months ago)

Some very mean spirited people here. I love to hear about the otherwise unsung creators of technology - they are my heroes. The soft sounding G in an acronym or abbreviation is a stretch however; no one says, " Jrafics". It would be hoot if we we just found out we are supposed to be pronouncing it, "yay-peg" or "gay-peg"! There are a lot of tiffs on this site. Where's my OED?

2 upvotes
Mahmoud Mousef
By Mahmoud Mousef (11 months ago)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphics_Interchange_Format#Unisys_and_LZW_patent_enforcement

Interesting to learn it can now be used freely without patent problems. I am only 10 years late learning about this !

0 upvotes
rallyfan
By rallyfan (11 months ago)

There was a huge tempest in a teapot a few years back due to the assertion, then, that it could not. Ten rich guys and their lawyers cared, everyone else didn't even notice and the world went on. The horse had left the stable at that point so legality aside, the claim was moot (pronounced ghoti).

0 upvotes
Mark 100
By Mark 100 (11 months ago)

Graphics Interchange Format is abbreviated to GIF, which is also an acronym.
The purpose of abbreviations and acronyms is, inter alia, to promote efficiency in referring to concepts, but the general rule is that the sound of the letters in said abbreviation goes back to the words compiling the concept.

As much as the world is grateful for the GIF file, it is not Wilhite's (pronounced Jones) place to redefine pronunciation. His Jif-pronunciation messes with the efficiency of the acronym.

Examples
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acronym

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
5 upvotes
jaygeephoto
By jaygeephoto (11 months ago)

Exactly. I've run into this sort of thing before with engineers and how they pronounce their inventions. It makes me grin inside and wonder if it's an intentional cheekiness towards their English major classmates?

2 upvotes
MrGreen
By MrGreen (11 months ago)

What a tool. Do you pronounce jraphics with a soft J you moron? No, so shut up and accept you're just some dumb old loser.

2 upvotes
eagle14
By eagle14 (11 months ago)

Interesting fight here-- which should take precedence, the creator's intent or the common usage?

In other words, a question for each side to consider:
None of you invented the English language, nor is the originator of this particular word available for comment. So... is the 13th element (which is spelled aluminium) pronounced "uh-loo-mih-nuhm" or "al-you-mih-nee-uhm"? =)

0 upvotes
JamesMortimer
By JamesMortimer (11 months ago)

Al-you..

It's spelt aluminium .. INIUM.. not INUM..

0 upvotes
tbcass
By tbcass (11 months ago)

How about a-loo-MIN-i-mum the way the British do. I'm American but the British pronunciation seems more correct.

Comment edited 9 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
GEAH
By GEAH (11 months ago)

The British pronounce it differently because they spell it differently--with an additional syllable.

0 upvotes
Low Battery
By Low Battery (11 months ago)

Jif makes it sound like a cleaning product.....

4 upvotes
pcworth
By pcworth (11 months ago)

Or a bottle of lemon juice!

Just because you invent or discover something, you cannot expect to name it as well. Anyone who discovered an element knows that. There are committees who must preside over these important things! :-P Most people can't even pronounce things that are well defined, mostly because they cannot pronounce anything period.

Does anyone even use GIF for useful stuff? The only thing I see it used for these days is animated icons.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Optical1
By Optical1 (11 months ago)

...or peanut butter...

5 upvotes
stratplaya
By stratplaya (11 months ago)

Tomato, tomahto.

0 upvotes
pcworth
By pcworth (11 months ago)

You mean "Tomayto" or is it "Tomaito" !

0 upvotes
Mark 100
By Mark 100 (11 months ago)

Tomato, Jomato

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Plastek
By Plastek (11 months ago)

Jraphics Interchange Format, makes sense.

Oh, wait: no it doesn't.

5 upvotes
Low Budget Dave
By Low Budget Dave (11 months ago)

If I were to create a jreat work like that, I would also feel entitled to name it anything I want. Then, as I jrew older, I would feel perfectly comfortable telling people how to pronounce it.

For all the jood it would do.

3 upvotes
Vinc T
By Vinc T (11 months ago)

I really wonder what these pathetic guys have contributed to our world. For these people, knowing how to pronounce a hard G is a big deal, and a rare chance for them to show off too! How pathetic!

1 upvote
RXVGS
By RXVGS (11 months ago)

'Jif' vs 'Gpeg'

7 upvotes
CaseyComo
By CaseyComo (11 months ago)

I _believe_ the correct pronunciation is Gpej!

4 upvotes
Mathis CH
By Mathis CH (11 months ago)

I had a terriffic time reading all the comments. Still laughing my throat out! I just don't understand why good old Albert is popping up in every second posting. JIF me a break!

2 upvotes
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

What P*SSES ME OFF here are the Mo**ons who are trying to tell the CREATOR that he is wrong, what do you plan to do NEXT? Tell Subaru how to say "impreza" or claim Einstein to be wrong? I would LOVE to see you debate it in the same "quality" debate you have here which is "its gif not jif, why? because i said so"

No, no it is not. You are NOT the inventor nor do you write the dictionary, in fact let's debate ALL The words in the dictionary and B*itch and moan about them as well. Let's go against an ENTIRE language just because we don't think the CREATORS of said Language are right.

5 upvotes
rallyfan
By rallyfan (11 months ago)

TL;DNR.

Zero credibility with the caps and ***.

The guy in the pic can't pronounce it right even if he invented it.

Get over it.

Sail away on the failboat.

3 upvotes
webrunner5
By webrunner5 (11 months ago)

I can't help it if the guy can't spell.

2 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (11 months ago)

WOW Anepo, some anger over a rather silly little insignificant word.

So, you don't like going against the creators of said language. Here is one for you...

ALUMINIUM.

1 upvote
pcworth
By pcworth (11 months ago)

Subaru is a Japanese company, so who really knows how it is supposed to be pronounced, and to be quite honest you just say you have a WRX or STi anyway. I have a Forester cuz I have to haul stuff!

There are tons of people who "know" Einstein was wrong, but I think they all live in Poland.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
1 upvote
DPNick
By DPNick (11 months ago)

It's spelled Luxury Yacht, but it's pronounced Throatwarbler Mangrove.

Mr. Pither. It's spelled just like brotherhood except with a pi instead of the bro and no hood.

GIF has a hard G, don't care what he says.

3 upvotes
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

Yes do tell the inventor of the word that he is wrong, what next? tell albert einstein that he is wrong on his theory's? I would like to see you try to prove him wrong.

2 upvotes
DPNick
By DPNick (11 months ago)

It's not a word, it's an acronym. And since the first word of that acronym has a hard G, so does the acronym. Do you pronounce scuba skooba, sooba, or shuba? Everyone I've heard calls it skooba, because the sc combination is not formed from normal usage, but from self contained. It really doesn't matter how he wants to pronounce GIF, he can't change the rules of English.

It's spelled GIF, but it's pronounced Aunt Jemima. Sorry, doesn't work.

1 upvote
pcworth
By pcworth (11 months ago)

He did not invent the word, he invented the technology. Just look at all the different naming conventions something like WIFI has gone through.

0 upvotes
itsastickup
By itsastickup (11 months ago)

Very boring article, but the NYtimes reader's comments below it are hilarious.

1 upvote
atlien991
By atlien991 (11 months ago)

Those reader comments are geeks without lives.

1 upvote
JaFO
By JaFO (11 months ago)

'gif' is Dutch for poison ...
I wonder if he knew ;)

2 upvotes
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (11 months ago)

GIF = Geriatric Interchange Format

1 upvote
Wye Photography
By Wye Photography (11 months ago)

Surely, if it's JIF, then it should be CIF.

And if the joke is lost on you, there used to be a UK kitchen cleaning product called JIF that changed its name to CIF.

It's still not that funny, but, all I could think of.

1 upvote
pcworth
By pcworth (11 months ago)

Forgot about those little white bottles with the green lids that my mum used!

0 upvotes
BJL
By BJL (11 months ago)

This video explains my thoughts on this absurd mis-pronunciaton affectation:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqf1lhK2yjo&feature=youtu.be

0 upvotes
Raincheck
By Raincheck (11 months ago)

Congratulations Mr. Wilhite— good job at a time of need. That said, just because you figured out my least favorite form of compression next to MP3, doesn't mean you have the sense that God gave a bug when figuring out how to pronounce an acronym.

0 upvotes
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

And you are going to prove einstein wrong next? have fun.

2 upvotes
pcworth
By pcworth (11 months ago)

You need to be very careful making statements like this because it is quite possible that he was wrong. It was just a theory after all, and there are already plenty of exceptions.

It fits what we understand now simply because we do not know any better. For the longest time people branded Boltzmann as an Irreligious Materialist for believing in Atoms. At one time everyone knew the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. So . . . . .

Comment edited 33 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Edwaste
By Edwaste (11 months ago)

If GIF is an abbreviation for Graphics Interchange Format, Wouldn't the G be hard like the word Graphics?
Anyway Mr. Wilhite invented it...he can call it anything he pleases.

I always said "Graphics Interchange Format"...it made me sound like I knew something.

1 upvote
Meiki67
By Meiki67 (11 months ago)

In Arab and Hebrew it sounds not very honorful :
ג'יפה (pronounced dshiffa) = messy

1 upvote
qwertyasdf
By qwertyasdf (11 months ago)

Don't care if it's JIF or GIF
I just read "G" "I" "F" insanely quick.

1 upvote
AngryCorgi
By AngryCorgi (11 months ago)

This crotchety old man just successfully trolled the entire internet. Well played, sir. Well played.

9 upvotes
Jahled
By Jahled (11 months ago)

Hahaha! This^

1 upvote
TacticDesigns
By TacticDesigns (11 months ago)

Actually . . . it's all a well crafted marketing ploy to make sure everyone remembers GIF! Well played in deed! Now we just need a crafty way to remember that there is an extra IL in W_hite to remember his name! <grin>

0 upvotes
meanwhile
By meanwhile (11 months ago)

Gu-raphics. Not Ji-raphics. He's messing with us.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
1 upvote
dennishancock
By dennishancock (11 months ago)

Jood point.

1 upvote
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

No your mind is just to simple to understand it.

2 upvotes
Timmbits
By Timmbits (11 months ago)

"Computer Industry" news now, on this photo site? what's up with that?

I've been in computers since the mid eighties, and I've never heard it called a jif either. gift, gif... should be a hard g I would think. now if I pronounce it correctly from today onwards, everyone will be correcting me all the time. now that doesn't sound like much fun! I'd much rather continue to upset it's creator whom I've never met.

2 upvotes
Edwaste
By Edwaste (11 months ago)

""Computer Industry" news now, on this photo site? what's up with that?"
It's a DIGITAL photography site. So news about imaging formats such as GIF, JPEG or TIFF, would be in order.

I love it when the tail wants to wag the dog.

Comment edited 33 seconds after posting
5 upvotes
Russell McMahon
By Russell McMahon (11 months ago)

Interesting to me is the proportion of people who say that they have never heard it pronounced with a hard G. I've never heard it pronounced with a SOFT G. FWIW (possibly little :-) ) I've been using computers actively for almost 40 years. "Down here" in New Zealand we speak "The Queen's English" [tm] and British English is, I'm assured by experts, slowly morphing to follow our lead :-).

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
itsastickup
By itsastickup (11 months ago)

Actually I think it's that we are copying the Americans by softening out the ends of words. It's awful. It makes every one sound like a plebian.

0 upvotes
Paul Farace
By Paul Farace (11 months ago)

I prefer SKIPPY creamy! With Welche's grape jelly on soft white bread and a glass of milk.

0 upvotes
Chris Noble
By Chris Noble (11 months ago)

Whole wheat is better for you, and tastes better as well.

0 upvotes
AllMankind
By AllMankind (11 months ago)

If he had wanted it pronounced 'jif', then he should have called it JIF.

5 upvotes
Plastek
By Plastek (11 months ago)

JIF ages ago was used as an extension for some of JPEG files. So.. I guess he couldn't.

0 upvotes
NAwlins Contrarian
By NAwlins Contrarian (11 months ago)

Sorry, but he doesn't get to dictate the pronunciation just because he created the file type. Standard pronunciation rules apply. Insofar as the G in GIF is for "graphics", which has a hard G, then GIF should likewise be pronounced with a hard G.

5 upvotes
itsastickup
By itsastickup (11 months ago)

..that's right, like Geoff.

1 upvote
doctor digi
By doctor digi (11 months ago)

I didn't know GEOFF was an acronym...

0 upvotes
GaryW
By GaryW (11 months ago)

Gary is not pronounced the same as Jerry, even if Geoff is pronounced like Jeff. English is inconsistent like that.

Anyway, it seems natural for most people to assume that GIF uses a hard-G. Although I can't say that I really care how it's pronounced, it's not as if people are nutty for picking one way over the other. (Nutty? No pun intended in comparison to Jif brand peanut butter.)

0 upvotes
Plastek
By Plastek (11 months ago)

"English is inconsistent like that." - yea, English is a mess. Sometimes I'm happy to actually use more consistent language in my every day life.

1 upvote
rallyfan
By rallyfan (11 months ago)

There is no inconsistency with Geoff though; Geoff is pronounced like George.

Who took the photo in the article? Anybody here? Did the guy look that constipated throughout the event?

0 upvotes
psn
By psn (11 months ago)

Pronounce it however you want. If someone doesn't know what a GIF or a Jif is, that's their problem.

Mr. Wilhite looks a little too rigid to me. Perhaps he needs to pull that stick out...

0 upvotes
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

Homophobe.

0 upvotes
Plastek
By Plastek (11 months ago)

Homeopathe

0 upvotes
Antony John
By Antony John (11 months ago)

Seems ironic that someone who invents a compression technology must then use a lengthy (expanded) explanation of how to pronounce it ;-)
From Wiki it would also appear that JIF is an alternative filename extension for JPEG compression - just to confuse the issue.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Macx
By Macx (11 months ago)

Luckily, mr. Wilh-I-Te has no jurisdiction outside the anglophone countries.

Besides I thought the RULE in English, was that three-letter acronyms (TLA) were spelled out (U-S-A, U-S-A!), and only once the abbreviations hit four letters or more are you to try to pronounce them as a word?

0 upvotes
NevilN
By NevilN (11 months ago)

What if someone someday come to you and tell you that you, and your father, got your name wrong?

1 upvote
Macx
By Macx (11 months ago)

Gifrey is an uncommon name, luckily.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

Well the irony is that people are debating with the creator, this is kind of like trying to dispute einstein's theory.

1 upvote
CarVac
By CarVac (11 months ago)

I've always said "JIF"...

5 upvotes
Plastek
By Plastek (11 months ago)

you're doing it wrong. JIF is a different extension: http://extension.nirsoft.net/jif ;)

0 upvotes
Eddaweaver
By Eddaweaver (11 months ago)

Ironic as "JIF" used to be name and still is a valid file extension for what is now known as "JPEG".

3 upvotes
Antony John
By Antony John (11 months ago)

I see from the photo that he's wearing a booty too.
Perhaps it affects his vocal chords?
If I was he I'd be more worried about how one pronounces his surname.

0 upvotes
sean000
By sean000 (11 months ago)

I don't care if he invented the GIF... "JIF" still sounds wrong. Is the 'G' sound in "Graphic Interchange Format" a soft 'G'? No! You don't say "Jiraphic Interchange format," so why would you say "JIF?"

I think Mr. Wilhite has a sadistic, yet patient, tendency. He waits 25 years to settle the debate, only to say that the least logical option is the correct one. Grrr

5 upvotes
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

it may sound wrong to you but you did not invent it so you don't get to choose what is the correct way, just like you don't get to choose how "hello" is supposed to be said.

1 upvote
micahmedia
By micahmedia (11 months ago)

I've been pronouncing it with a hard G since BBS days. I'm not the only one. Usually when I hear someone say "jif" it's a nerd who gets humiliated right quick.

I did at one point learn that a soft G was technically correct, but after trying to pronounce it like that and realizing that nobody knew what I was saying, I went back to the hard G and never looked back.

0 upvotes
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

So you humiliate someone who is more intelligent than you.. nice, we now know who the bully in school was.

1 upvote
mick232
By mick232 (11 months ago)

I am glad to be a native German speaker. We are still allowed to say "GIF" with hard "G". There is no other way to pronounce that word in German.

2 upvotes
Sdaniella
By Sdaniella (11 months ago)

agree... hard G gif... not soft G jif... after all, it isn't ever a Jraphic Interchange Format... file extension... ever

btw... how many folks say hard G for Gigabyte [GB] now, after hearing the 'professor' on 'Back to the Future' saying it with the soft G 'J' as in Jigabyte?

in the case of Giga, it IS A WORD (prefix) Giga, thus the 'i' that follows a G typically is SOFT... BUT GIF is NOT a WORD, but rather an ACRONYM, thus it's no surprise the G is hard, as it is the acronym letter taking after G in GRAPHIC...

sdyue

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
7 upvotes
JamesMortimer
By JamesMortimer (11 months ago)

I don't care what he calls it - it will always be hard G GIF..

1 upvote
Anepo
By Anepo (11 months ago)

I don't care what your name is but I shall call you "JAES" that will always be your correct name.

1 upvote
Total comments: 159
12