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The War Comes to an End Over the Pronunciation of ‘GIF’

Speaking of language, as we were a couple of posts back, currently making the rounds all over the design-y portions of the internet is this piece for the Atlantic by Rebecca Greenfield, “Tech Etymology: Animated GIF.” It arrives at a conclusion surrounding a very serious and contentious debate: how to pronounce “GIF,” the image file format that, anymore, seems largely in use only in animated form on online forums about celebrities, cats, or cat celebrities (and probably elsewhere too, but those are the only sorts of sites we look at on a daily basis). This debate has raged at this writer’s own home for several years now, with his wife using the hard G and he using a softer J-like sound, as in “gin.” Turns out, he wins. Unfortunately, Greenfield gives his wife an out by saying none of it really matters in the end:

All of this to say that those of you who pronounce GIF with a hard-g shouldn’t be embarrassed. Not only does the Oxford English Dictionary declare both pronunciations — /gɪf/ (hard g) , /dʒɪf/ (soft g) — correct, but as Dr. Labov’s colleague, phonology expert Dr. Rolf Noyer, explained, “pronunciation is a matter of agreement between people.” Language is constantly changing: If an overwhelming amount of people want to say GIF like gift, and an overwhelming amount of people accept and understand that pronunciation, the creators’ intentions don’t really matter.


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