It's Pronounced "Gif"

Note: I wrote this after a long day at work, which was preceded by three hours of sleep. I’m tired, but was inpired by a discussion at work. This post was admittedly rushed and I didn’t bother proofreading it. Perhaps this topic will be more properly revisited in the future. Read at your own risk.

At Graydient, just like how I imagine other tech-related companies, we occasionally go on tangents debating the pronunciation of the image type, .gif and specifically whether it’s a hard or soft g. In fact, a discussion we had earlier today prompted me to write this post. Our office is pretty evenly split between the two, with about 15-20 people opting for the hard g pronunciation, and… three for soft g. Okay, maybe it’s not so even. Regardless, these arguments usually lead to pretty valid points, and equally valid counterpoints. But while they get me thinking about why we pronounce the word the ways we do, I’ve never swayed from my original opinion, and I have never seen anyone change theirs. Often, it’s because these arguments are usually easily nullified.

Here's the first result when you look search 'gif' on Giphy

Probably the leading argument for the hard G pronunciation is that the G stands for Graphics, as in Graphics Interchange Format. This logic is understandable, as acronyms such as lol as ASAP (as soon as possible)[1], KISS (keep it simple, stupid), and FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) all follow it. However, there are vastly more acronyms that are not pronounced as a combination of their source syllables. For example, RADAR stands RAdio Detection And Ranging[2]. Following the proposed logic, it should be pronounced ray-dehr due to the soft A sound in “and”. Yet, ray-dahr have pretty much been universally agreed as the correct pronunciation. One simply can’t deny, especially as a developer, that FUBAR loses its meaning when pronounced as fuh-bar. And no one say juh-pheg (Joint Photographic Experts Group).

Team Hard G isn’t the only side with flawed arguments though. What seems to be the only argument ever brought for the soft G pronunciation is that the creator has declared it to be that way. Well, let’s put it this way: Google’s original name was Backrub[3]. Sure, a complete name change isn’t exactly the same as a pronunciation preference, but this shows that the creator doesn’t always make the best naming decisions at first. Furthermore, Steve Wilhite, the creator, never gave much of a reason for this, essentially just stating that it’s pronounced with a soft G and if you disagree, you’re wrong[4]. This article does a great job of explaining why his decision doesn’t concretly determine the canonical pronunciation.

All in all, pretty much any argument one can come up with can be nullified by a single entity: language. Specifically, the English language. Both sides have a certain form of ammunition in common: throwing words that uses G in their favor at each other. For example those preferring hard G would start off with the classics graphics. Then soft G supporters would follow up with giraffe. After that, there’s gift. And of course, you can never go wrong with gin. Eventually, it leads to Team Hard G making fun of the J-like pronunciation by replacing g-words with J, such as “jreat comeback!” If we think about it, all this does is prove that the English language doesn’t really have a plan for the letter G[5].

English doesn't know what it wants.

In the end, it’s all a matter of preference. I believe the majority of people prefer the hard G pronunciation because that sounds more natural to them. Words like give, gift, and git are more common than giraffe, gist, and ginger. So where do I stand on this debate? Well, I’ve come to accept both pronunciations. Except if you think it’s hard G, you’re stupid and wrong.