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Word wonks insist GIFs are really JIFs

You’re pronouncing the word of the year wrong, say Oxford lexicographers

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Not content with somehow managing to proclaim ‘GIF’ the USA’s word of the year for 2012, the lexicographers at Oxford Dictionaries now insist that the correct pronunciation of the word does not use a hard g, as in golf.

The dictionary chose GIF as its word of the year because the USA has gone GIF-crazy. Making satirical GIFs of recent events is quite the thing for young people today.

Katherine Martin, one of the lexicographers who judged the word of the year, wrote on Oxford’s site that “The programmers who developed the format preferred a pronunciation with a soft g (in homage to the commercial tagline of the peanut butter brand Jiff, they supposedly quipped ‘choosy developers choose GIF’).”

The programmers in question worked for CompuServe, a long-dead but pioneering dialup service that invented the file format because it didn’t have a good one for colour photos. One of the developers who worked on the GIF was Bob Berry, who is recorded in this 1994 email exchange as confirming that the word is pronounced with a soft g.

There’s even a GIF pronunciation page with further, albeit secondary, evidence of the “correct” pronunciation.

Oxford does, at least, offer us all an out with the following proclamation:

“… the pronunciation with a hard g is now very widespread and readily understood. Whichever pronunciation you use, it should of course be the same for both the noun and the verb.”

The dictionary publisher has another controversy in store, writing that there’s no settled spelling for GIF derivatives.

“The most common form features GIF in capitals but the inflected endings in lowercase (GIFed, GIFing), so that is the spelling we have chosen to use here,” Martin writes. “However, there is also very strong evidence for an all-lowercase spelling with the f duplicated (giffed, giffing), perhaps by analogy with the verb riff. With such a new word, it isn’t surprising that a single spelling hasn’t yet become established.”

The Dictionary promises to keep an eye on this omnishambles and keep us all informed.

In the meantime, all we have to do is figure out what this means for the pronunciation of other acronyms. “Jaypedge”, anyone? ®

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