Today I learned: how to pronounce ‘GIF’

By Curtis Honeycutt

I understand if you’re not on Reddit; after all, it’s quite the opposite of a local newspaper. However, the online community of Reddit contains groups for virtually any interest, as well as an unhealthy amount of goofball meme culture. One of my favorite subreddits (i.e., a dedicated page to discuss a specific topic) is “TIL,” which is an initialism for “today I learned.”

Today I learned the acronym “GIF” is pronounced with a soft “G” sound, like in “giraffe.” If I were commenting on Reddit, I would reply with a “head exploding” emoji character.

What is a GIF? It’s an animated image often used online. You’ve probably seen one posted as a comment on someone’s Facebook post. You can send them in text messages. GIFs are everywhere.

I always thought “Jif” was the peanut butter and “GIF” (with a hard “g”) was the animated photo file. As it turns out, I have been wrong for years.

Again, this isn’t new information; the inventor of the graphics interchange format (aka GIF) cleared this up all the way back in 2013, which, in internet terms is an eternity.

Steve Wilhite invented the animated GIF back in 1987. As an employee of CompuServe, he was tasked to come up with a universal file format for animated images. As many consumers were getting online for the first time, web content creators embraced the file format.

Today GIFs serve as shorthand language, similar to how emoji characters dominate text messages. The images are our version of low-resolution moving hieroglyphics. Digital architects will scratch their heads someday as they examine the bizarre aspects of our early 21st-century culture.

I still have a hard time with the soft “G” pronunciation of “GIF.” The “G” in “GIF” stands for “graphics,” not “jraphics.” According to both the Oxford English Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, both the “JIF” and “GIF” pronunciations are acceptable. But the creator prefers the “J” pronunciation. Who am I to argue with the creator?

Today I learned I was wrong about how to say “GIF.” Although I find it uncomfortable to say “JIF,” I’m going to start doing it. I don’t like being wrong, so this is a tough pride pill to swallow. After all, I think being able to accept correction will help make me a “jood” person.

—Curtis Honeycutt is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist and author. Connect with him at