Steve Wilhite, the inventor of the GIF file format, caused controversy by declaring the file format should properly be pronounced ‘jif’ – but this has been refuted by the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Wilhite, who was awarded with a webby for his contributions to the net, said in an email interview to the New York Times that, although the Oxford English Dictionary accepts both hard and soft G pronunciations, “they are wrong”.
“It is a soft ‘G’, pronounced ‘jif’. End of story,”Wilhite said.
Wilhite found himself in disagreement with much of Twitter and even a US government-sanctioned Tumblr account that declared the .Gif a hard g. Although credit lies with him for popularising the acronym, language evolves and much of the web is familiar with the hard g Gif, though it is still up for debate.
However, John Simpson, chief editor at the Oxford English Dictionary, explained that both pronunciations are curremtly in use.
“As we explained when GIF was selected as Oxford Dictonaries USA Word of the Year 2012, ‘GIF may be pronounced with either a soft g, as in giant, or a hard g, as in graphic. The programmers who developed the format preferred a prounciation with a soft g – in homage to the commercial tagline of the peanut butter brand Jif, they supposedly quipped “choosy developers choose GIF. However, the pronunciation with a hard g is now very widespread and readily understood'”.
“A coiner effectively loses control of a word once it’s out there,” Simpson said. “For instance, the coiner of quark in the physics sense had intended it to rhyme with cork, but general usage has resulted in it rhyming with mark”.
“Whichever pronunciation you use for GIF, it should of course be the same for both the noun and the verb,” Simpson said.