While GIFs help us say what words cannot, few agree on how GIF is actually pronounced. And there might be good reason for this, according to new data.
Two acceptable pronunciations exist: one with a soft “g” that sounds like a “j,” and one with a hard “g,” as in “gift” or “give.” If you need proof, the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster permit both. (That’s all despite the fact that the inventor of the GIF himself, Steve Wilhite, who created those animated image files at CompuServ in the ‘80s, has said that the hard-“g” camp is “wrong.”)
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But some people don’t know or don’t care what Wilhite or the dictionaries say — they care what the masses say. Recently, Stack Overflow, a forum for computer programmers, conducted its seventh annual Developer Survey. The company polled more than 64,000 developers in nearly 200 countries, posing a variety of benign questions such as education level and career satisfaction before dropping the big ask: “How do you pronounce ‘GIF’?”
Sixty-five percent of respondents globally went with the hard “g,” while 26 percent reported they say it with a soft “g.”
As the Economist points out, the hard “g” is more prevalent in languages around the word. Spanish and Finnish don’t have any native words with the soft “g,” while most dialects of Arabic are hard “g”-free. The Stack Overflow survey results reflect that discrepancy: People in countries where the hard “g” is more common make up 45 percent of the world’s population, but a disproportionate 79 percent of survey respondents were from those countries. Even when answers were weighted based on population, however, the hard “g” prevailed 44 percent to 32 percent globally.
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If you’re wondering why those percentages don’t add up to 100, one reason is because some people enunciate all three letters, like an acronym. Half of respondents from China and 70 percent from South Korea say GIF in this way.
Or, if all of this ambiguity makes you too anxious, you can always call a GIF by its full name: “Graphics Interchange Format.”