How to Pronounce GIF

This is how and why I pronounce GIF the way I do. Have you ever asked yourself why?

If you’ve known me for any amount of time personally at all, you know that I like to have fun. Some of the best fun in life comes from friends who know you’re quirks and your buttons and poke them affectionately.

Trolling me affectionately is easy because I wear my emotions and my opinions on my sleeve — and I hold them lightly. If you want to poke me easily, here’s a few good ones:

brass door knob on brown wooden door

Hang the toilet paper roll the wrong way

(flap in the back, of course!)

man holding smartphone in close up photography

Add me to a group SMS

(blocked, reported, de-friended for forever)

woman holding pineapple

Try to call something “pizza” that clearly is not “pizza”

(call it flatbread, whatever…)

But this is about the ever-present, always ridiculous, pronunciation of our favorite graphics format: The GIF.

How to Pronounce GIF

So here’s my take on how to pronounce GIF. I’m team JIFF. Just like the creator. Why? Because when I first looked at the word, that’s what made sense in my brain. Is that a good enough reason? Yes, absolutely. Why? Because English doesn’t have hard and fast rules for how to pronounce acronyms and anyone who tells you differently just wants to argue (maybe for fun).

What’s so funny about this debate is that that’s exactly what happened to you too. We’re all innocents here. The word came to us for the first time over text only, we didn’t hear it first, we SAW it first and we did our best. Like we do with Latin words, or reading Harry Potter as an American and trying to pronounce Hermione correctly the first time.

Maybe for you, the first time you heard it was with the dreaded “hard g.” A grammar-poor friend said “Hey look at this GHEFF!” and that made a lasting impression on your grammar-poor mind and it imprinted on you in a way unnatural to GIF. It’s ok, everyone makes mistakes.

But you have the ability to be educated, to learn from the experts, and to correct your ways.

My GIF Pronunciation Recovery Plan for you Hard G-ers

So if you find yourself on team “hard g”, here’s your step-by-step plan towards recovery.

  1. Recognize that you are not a linguist or grammar professional. If you are — wow! Glad you’re here, keep reading please!
  2. Recognize that English doesn’t have hard and fast rules for how we pronounce acronyms. For example, how do you say “JPEG”? If you’re “team hard g” you must of course pronounce that other graphics format as Jayfeg, not Jay-peg, right?
  3. Recognize that creators have the right to determine the pronunciation of their creations.
  4. Recognize that if you want to know WHY the creator chooses soft g, it’s most likely because that’s the rule in English. Per Wikipedia:

The orthography of soft ⟨g⟩ is fairly consistent: a soft ⟨g⟩ is almost always followed by ⟨e i y⟩.
~ Wikipedia “Hard and Soft G

5. Recognize that statistically, soft g wins out as well.

On a Serious Note

Lastly, recognize that for every “tit” of my soft-g fun, I know you have a “tat”. We can do that because this is really just about how we describe a moving image of a cat pushing a cup off a table.

What I find fascinating and concerning about this debate though, is that it’s a tiny microcosm of the nature of debate and discussion on the internet as a whole. You came to this article with your conclusion already, and you’ll leave this article having changed not one single thing about your opinion on the GIF pronunciation, despite the data, despite the facts.

Again, in this case, that’s fine and we can keep having fun.

But that happens too with very serious questions — with questions about why international migration and immigration happens, why people go bankrupt because they got sick, why gun violence in America exists, why abortion happens, why masks work in slowing the spread of bacteria, why science matters, why faith matters, why we continue to find new ways to be hurtful, why humans still choose to be good even though we don’t celebrate that often enough.

Start by Questioning Your Opinions; not Others’

I like to “go with the crowd” generally speaking. I’m a consensus builder. In the GIF pronunciation debate, there’s plenty of data that shows that I’m in the minority. Most people prefer “hard g” Gif. And language evolves by consensus, not simply rules.

If I stare that data in the face, I have to ask myself why I continue to choose soft G. So why? Because it’s a fun game, and a conversation starter. If that’s the case, my goal here is always fun, not shame or righteousness.

If you’re still reading here, I’m betting that you came to this article staunchly “hard g” or “soft g”. I’m betting you absolutely didn’t start reading this with “why do I pronounce it the way I do?”

If you’re still reading here, let me ask you to do one thing:

Start every conversation you have today by questioning yourself on why you believe what you do. I guarantee it will improve the nature of your conversation. Click To Tweet

When it comes to working with people, engaging in conversation, finding consensus, working toward solutions; the best thing we can all do is start by questioning our own opinions, not others’.