The GIF Pronounciation Page
The Facts...

The GIF graphics file format was invented by Steve Wilhite at CompuServe in 1987. In the years since, a debate has been raging as to the correct way to pronounce "GIF": like "jif" as in the peanut butter, or with a hard 'g' as in "gift" as a majority of Mac users seem to prefer. With this page I intend to clear this up once and for all...

It's pronounced like "jif". Period. The end. That's final. End of story.

You disagree? Hey, I'm just quoting the inventors of the format. Here's the evidence:

  • CompuServe used to distribute a graphics display program called CompuShow. In the documentation for version 8.33 in the FAQ section, it states:

    The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF", was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.

    There, straight from the inventors of the format.

    Convinced yet?

  • The image below is an example GIF that came with CompuShow:


    It is a picture of CompuShow's author, Bob Berry. He used some of the then-new features of the GIF89 format to display text on top of graphics. One of the lines he entered in the text states:

    Oh, incidentally, it's pronounced "JIF"

    You can't see this text within a web browser, but if you save this image and load it up in GIF Construction Set or another animated GIF89 editor, you can see the comment for yourself. Drag and View also displays this text, but kind of screwed up. For further proof from Bob Berry, check this out.

    Steven O'Neill writes:
    Another way to get the JIF line out of Bob Berry using standard Unix tools:
    ~>curl http://www.olsenhome.com/gif/BOB_89A.GIF | strings | grep JIF
      % Total    % Received % Xferd  Average Speed   Time    Time % Time  Current
                                     Dload  Upload   Total   Spent Left  Speed
    100 37062  100 37062    0     0  69595      0 --:--:-- --:--:-- --:--:--  166k
    |s,Oh, incidentally, it'spronounced "JIF"
    

    Convinced yet?

  • The Graphics File Formats FAQ states the following:

    Choosy programmers choose "gif" or "jif"?

    The pronunciation of "GIF" is specified in the GIF specification to be "jif", as in "jiffy", rather then "gif", which most people seem to prefer. This does seem strange because the "G" is from the word "Graphics" and not "Jraphics".

    That last statement doesn't mean anything. It's an acronym. There's no defined way to pronounce acronyms--it's up to the creators.

    Convinced yet?

  • A graphics format known as PNG is being pushed by its creators as the next big thing. Among its list of features is its "unambiguous pronunciation". Here's part of its documentation:

    Pronunciation

    No detail was too small for consideration in the authors' quest for a near-perfect image format; yea, verily, even the acronym and pronunciation were major topics of discussion. The reason, of course, is the GIF format; some pronounce it with a soft G like giraffe, some with a hard G like gift, and no one really knows what they're talking about. (For the record, the soft G is correct; it is how the author of the format pronounces it.)

    "PNG" is always spelled "PNG" (or "Portable Network Graphics") and always pronounced "ping," not "pinj" or "pee en gee" or any other multi-syllabic disaster. See the introduction to the PNG specification for the definitive statement on the matter.

    Convinced yet?

  • NetBITS, a weekly ePublication that provided practical Internet information, asked its readers in Issue 002 to supply information that could solve the GIF pronunciation debate. They followed up in Issue 003 with this:

    It's "Jiff" and I Don't Want to Hear Another Word -- Logic may dictate the "g" in GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) is pronounced hard, like gift or gefilte fish, but that didn't stop dozens and dozens of readers from offering opinions, many of them hilarious.

    However, several people wrote to say that they either worked with folks at CompuServe or read the original GIF specification, all of which specified a soft "g". None of us at NetBITS understand why we haven't seen the definitive word before, so here it is. Charlie Reading <charlier@kreber.com> writes:

    I worked with the creator of GIF (Steve Wilhite) when I was still employed by CompuServe. Steve always pronounced it "jiff" and would correct those who pronounced it with a hard G. "Choosy developers choose GIF" (spinning off of a historically popular peanut butter commercial).

    If you want to make a difference in this pronunciation conundrum, print this piece of NetBITS out and send it to the person who writes your local newspaper's technology or Internet column. We now have the specification's authoritative pronunciation. Let's stamp out the hard "g," however logical, once and for all.

    Convinced yet?

About...

This site maintained by Steve Olsen. My e-mail address is:

A brief history...I started this site around 1998 mainly because I was a web developer and was looking for something original to do on the web. All the obvious choices were taken (who needs another Star Trek website, and what would I add to mine that would interest anyone besides myself? Nothing. Idea nixed.) But among my more obscure and lesser interests I thought of compiling the facts surrounding the GIF vs. JIF pronounciation debate which I had followed since the graphic format's inception in the late 80's when I was an avid BBS user. After some Yahoo & DejaNews research, I realized nobody had done this before and I had some good evidence to back up my point, so the site was created. Thanks to Andy L. at Skizzers.org who hosted this site for a while before I got my OlsenHome.com domain in 2002. Since then I've continued to get the occasional e-mail from people with an opinion, and I usually post it in the Reader's Comments section. If you've got a view on this topic, feel free to e-mail me!

News & Stuff...
GIF Inventor Steve Wilhite was honored with a 2013 Webby Lifetime Achievement award for inventing the GIF file format in 1987. That's a picture of him from the October 1987 CompuServe magazine to the right. And as the New York Times reported, he re-validated the existence of this website with this gem of a quote:

"The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations," Mr. Wilhite said. "They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story."

If you need more proof, just watch his acceptance at the Webby awards below!

Animated GIFs. They're not the subject of this page, but they've become all the rage recently. The 'animation' feature was just one of several new features added to the official GIF specification in the GIF89a revision, along with transparent backgrounds and overlying text (see left). In the early days of the web, they became popular for displaying simple cartoon-like animations on web sites, such as the ubiquitous "Under Construction" notices with their flashing lights and so forth. When broadband became the norm, larger GIFs became possible containing digitized video, which leads us to where we are today. I kind of hoped a newer GIF revision would come out supporting audio, but there is a beauty to the simplicity of a brief, silent, repeating video clip that just starts playing without clicking a little triangle.

Thanks to Justin at ReactionGIFs for letting me use the above animated GIF!

PBS Off Book produced a nice little YouTube video detailing the history of Animated GIFs. What's relevant here is that GIF is pronounced both ways throughout the video, depending on whom they're interviewing. But they include a nice little epilogue on the issue of GIF pronunciation! Scan forward to the 6:20 mark to check it out...

Strong Bad calls us "Nerds":

Click the above image for the full video. Thanks for pointing this out to us, JaguaR2D2!

Reader Comments...

If you have a comment, send me an E-mail at:

If it's interesting or funny, I'll reprint it on this page. If you still insist on pronouncing it like "gift" and don't feel like E-mailing me a reason... well then, you can jo gump in a lake, you gerk!

Phillip Burgess writes:

Ahhh, good, someone with their head screwed on right.

Anyone who pronounces "GIF" with a hard G simply does not understand computer programmers (and any programmers who still insist on this silly pronunciation are simply unfit). No *decent* coder would pass up an opportunity to inflict a horrid pun on the world. And seeing as peanut butter is one of the principle three programmer foods (the other two being Pepsi and nacho cheese Doritos), the reference is immediately obvious.

The "acronym theory," that a hard G should be used because it's "Graphics" and not "Jraphics," simply does not hold water. If acronyms were always to be pronounced from their source words rather than as an independent new word, then by this very arrangement, "JPEG" would be pronounced "JFEG."

Just to give these people a taste of their own medicine... I've started pronouncing "JPEG" with a hard G.

Brenda Harrison writes:

The "Correct Pronunciation of 'GIF'" page made me laugh for a good 5 minutes. It reminds me of the age old debate of "How to pronounce 'Geocities.'" That argument ended up with someone actually calling the Geocities offices to see how the phone operators answered the phone. ("Hello, Geo Cities," not "Hello, Geocities [g-os-ities]," just so you know. You probably already do, anyways.)

Sam Mefford writes:

Thanks for your page on the pronunciation of 'gif'! I'm glad to have been vindicated by evidence!

Just thought I'd point out that in the english language, when a g is followed by an a, o, or u, it is supposed to be hard. When followed by an i or e, it is supposed to be soft. Therefore I never had any question that it was pronounced 'jif', despite the fact that everyone around disagreed.

Rita Minnichsoffer rebuts:

I'd like to know what happens when you give a gekko to geese, or get a gift from a girl, then...

Talbott Crowell (who apparently has a dictionary and lots of free time) also rebuts:

I did not know the English language had such rules, from now on I will pronounce the following words with a soft "J" instead of a hard "G"

Jilligans Island
Jibbon Viper
birtday jift
feeling jiddy
jiggle (laugh)
Jilbert (cartoon)
fish jills
the Jideon Bible
you are jilty of the crime
a woman's jirdle
jirl scout cookies
jive me some
jibblets and jizzards

Pronounce GIF as you may.

Clay McGovern writes:

Although an interesting diversion, the roots of a word and its original pronunciation are completely irrelevant to common usage. Words have lives of their own. The creators of a word have little control over pronunciation beyond their original act of creation. Words are meant only for communication. The salient question is on "Do you understand my meaning when I say 'GIF'?" If the answer is "Yes." Then the dispute over "proper" pronunciation is absolutely absurd. Very, very, few people pronounce GIF with a soft g. Those who do are understood as well as those who don't. Where is the problem with that...

Best regards,

Clay (with a "c" as in "cat")

Erik J. Macki writes:

...

English words beginning in "gi-" "ge-" or "gy-" that are not of Romance origin (French, Italian, etc.) are *all* pronounced with a velar (hard) "g." It is probably due to a misunderstanding of this principle that led the inventor of the GIF to pronounce it with an affricate (soft) "g" in the first place. This is why a native speaker of English would intuitively pronounce a word spelled "GIF" with a velar (hard) "g" without knowing otherwise. This is more consistent with all English-speakers' natural, internal morphophonology, and that is why the velar pronunciation is so widespread.

Nonetheless, spelling is often irrelevant to pronunciation in English: with words like "tough," through," "gift," "gypsy," "egg," "gem," and "massage," no one need waste any effort creating logic about how the letter "g" "ought" to be pronounced in English words: there simply is no logic. One must go by usage.

English is full of words whose pronunciation deviates from prescribed standards--precisely because usage, and not prescriptive rules, dictates what is "correct." No amount of arguing from pundits and word-coiners can ever change this!

I suspect from informally surveys that the velar pronunciation in "GIF" is actually more common than the affricate ("soft") pronunciation--a point of view validated by the very existance of your Web site--and as such the velar variant is at least a "correct" alternative if not the more common and thus "more correct" form entirely.

Thanks,
Erik

(Ed: Whoa, that's over my head dude... you lost me at "morphophonology"!)

Dean Hutchings writes:

For years I have been telling people the correct pronunciation of GIF image files. They ALWAYS claimed I was wrong. I thought I had read somewhere that the creator of the format pronounced it like "jif" but could never find the proof. Now I have the ammo I need to finally prove my point!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Nathan Gaines writes:

I must say that your page on the correct pronunciation of .GIF is the most complete, well-researched, and convincing document I have ever seen on the subject.

Now could someone please tell me which of the three pronunciations of LINUX is correct?

Take care,
Nathan Gaines

Rob Ford writes:

"Jiff"...."Giff"....they're both wrong. The "G" in "GIF" is silent. And silence is Jolden.

So sayeth me.

(Rob was also nice enough to provide the nifty animated GIF logo up top. Thanks, Rob!)

Cole Hewitt writes:

Maybe GIF should be pronounced "zhif" with a French accent. Then we could end this controversy.

Steve Bennett writes:

I saw your site on the proper pronunciation of GIF and have to categorically state it's pronounced with the soft G as in Jif. Back in 1987, I was an assitant Sysop on Compuserve, in the Comics and Animation forum, and also in the AmigaArts forum, and as such was given the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of GIF development. (GIF was a godsend, especially for the Comics forum which was dealing with umpteen jillion different incompatible graphics formats...)

Days after the format was announced and the first programs released by Compuserve, I was one of the first to post new GIF code, and wrote an Amiga program to display GIF images. (I actually don't recall if mine was the first 3rd party program uploaded -- if not, it was by a matter of a few days at most...)

I called that program GIFFY because I had completely rewritten the decoder code (still in use by a few programs out there...:) and made it MUCH faster. (Later, I wrote GIFFY2, and HAMGIF...) We all pronounced it "Jif" at the time, and the name "GIFFY" seemed the obvious and clear choice of name.

It never even occurred to me that someone might pronounce it with the hard G until the mid 1990s.

Seeing your site was a breath of nostalgia for me -- I wonder if there's an archive of those old Compuserve forums anywhere around. So much great stuff was there. Alas, I suspect it's all lost in the maelstrom...

JaguaR2D2 writes:

I thought this might make a good link on the GIF Pronunciation Page:
http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail51.html

It is a cartoon in which, at one point, the character Strong Bad says:

"Okay, next on the checklist: lots of animated GIFs! {pronounces it /gifs/; stops typing} or... GIFs... {pronounces it /jifs/} or however you say it. I don't know. I heard a couple of nerds arguing about it one time."

Nick writes:

A belated bit of opinion for the discussion about the pronunciation of GIF—it is well-established that it was intended by the creators for GIF to be pronounced with a "J" sound, similar to the peanut butter brand, and technically this pronunciation is correct.

However, savvy graphics people who know their history (dare I say I'm one?) are also quite familiar with the JPEG Interchange Format (JIF), which is pronounced in the same manner. Since the Joint Photographic Experts Group was organized in 1986, their development of the JPEG family of standards (including JIF) possibly began earlier than the CompuServe work, which is consistently cited as resulting in the creation of GIF in 1987. Conversely, it can be argued that the Joint Photographic Experts Group didn't release their first standard until 1992, well after GIF's rise in popularity.

But the timeline is not so important. Those of us who followed and became familiar with both standards ran into the pronunciation issue long years ago. And the answer was simple—adhere to typical English rules, as cited rather well by Erik J. Macki, and pronounce GIF with a hard G and pronounce JIF with a J. That rule made it simple to identify between the formats, even if it meant one was pronounced inconsistently with what its creators intended.

Such "bastardization of language" is unavoidable. People still pronounce Porsche as a single syllable, despite there being no silent E in German. Furniture stores advertise "chase lounges" instead of the correct French chaises longues. While I generally agree with Mr. Macki that "one must go with usage," this is a different case. It's not from laziness or poor understanding of etymology that I pronounce GIF with a hard G, nor because it follows what other people do. It's in respect to the knowledge that there are two graphic formats with identical-sounding names, and the easiest, most efficient way to distinguish them is to pronounce them differently.

For my two cents, it was silly of the creators of GIF to go against an obvious pronunciation and ignore the words that formed that acronym. That was just asking for the very trouble that has kept this argument alive for so long.

Pigumon writes:

Doesn't matter what the "Creators" say.

You can't make up the word "banana" and tell everyone it's pronounced "ping pong table".

Gif(t).

Not like it matters, Spam is a stupid word for junk mail since tons of people LOVE SPAM but hate junk mail.

Computer geeks are stupid. They named the "PDA" when they had the chance to call it a "PAD".

Steve writes:

Yes, I realize this is such old hat that it now smells like... an old hat.

But, because I was basically flung to your .gif controversy site, here's my two bucks. (which of course, used to be 2 cents)

My first objection is minor but meaningful to me. You see the picture you have on your site of Bob Berry? Well, I don't have a picture of Steve Wilhite as a second confirmation, but I'll tell you right now, no one that looks like Bob Berry is going to have any effect on how I pronounce a damned thing.

Having said that, perhaps you will consider this: I don't accept your position that anyone has the right to define pronunciation of anything at all, whether they made it up or not. That includes, and perhaps needs to be emphasized in the case of acronyms, in light of their becoming a de facto modern day source of new words and language. Because of this fact, and attempting to stop adding stupid pronunciations to the already too confusing and contradictory English language, I will debate you on that subject any day, in front of any audience, and win overwhelming support. In other words, just because you assume, or because you SAY a thing, doesn't make it so.

I could, for instance attempt to apply your "rights" logic to a myriad of other circumstances and be shot down without an argument. For example, if I purchase a huge tract of worthless land, drain all the swamps, clean up the old garbage dumps, build beautiful lamp-lined streets and gorgeous houses, I might think I have a right to number my streets and houses how I want. Perhaps call north south and south east. But I don't. You see, there are laws, (in this case laws for guiding people trying to find their way, which is something the jif's should spend a little time thinking about) just as there are laws of pronunciation. Again, arbitrarily deciding to pronounce something with a natural "j" sound, that STANDS FOR something with a natural "g" sound WILL NOT make it so. Not unless you can defend the pronunciation of graphics as jraphics.

Finally, I refuse to follow some illogical course, (especially one based upon peanut butter of all things) that stupidly flies in the face of the primary logic, which in this case would be the long name of the acronym: Grrrraphic etc. etc. This principle of mine can be found vindicated in the very town where I live. No one knows who first called this area, Buena Vista. I assume it was a Hispanic, although it might not have been. In any case, the rural, native population insists on pronouncing this name as, Byoona Vista. Guess what? Even though some of these people have FOUNDING ancestors whose opinions predate any authority I might try to enforce by over 100 years, I AM NOT, EVER, going to call this place BYOOna. To those who insist, (and there are many) and to you and your followers I say, Kiss My pet Jackass.

Steve

Kim Williamson writes:

...as long as you insist on everyone saying you're "heels over head" in love with someone. Which is what is originally was...as you'd put it, "Period. The end. That's final. End of story."

Language evolves. Pronunciation is part of language. Pronunciation evolves.

Kim

Justin Garbett writes:

Thanks for the great info page on GIF pronunciation, I butt heads with this issue ALL the time.

I run ReactionGIFs and have to say GIF constantly. I always say it with the soft G (Jiff)... and every dang time, the person I am talking to will correct me with the hard G: "You mean GIF? It happens every time. Then I tell them the 'choosy developers' story and they just stare back blankly at me like I am a crazy person. Then they continue to use the hard G and think I have some form of nerd OCD. I hate to say it, but the hard G people are winning the war. It's an uphill battle for us soft Gs. I will continue to fight the good fight as I just prefer the soft G. I might have to stop trying to defend it though, people really don't like to be corrected.

All the best,
Justin

John Bridges writes:

I was one of the original GIF developers, wrote the image viewer PICEM which was first released in 1987.

I have always pronounced it GIF like the word GIFT.

Sadly, I don't have an archive of the developers forum on Compuserve from 1987, but there was at least one discussion on the pronunciation, and I was on the GIF side.

My argument then, like many of the modern arguments was that it's Graphics Image Format, not Jraphics Image Format, and that the closest word is GIFT.