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Peanut Butter? Really? Jif, Not Gif, Says Creator of .GIF

5/23/2013 by: Darleen Hartley - Get more from this author

Anything to stir controversy. The latest topic generating comments on many websites is the staunch rebuke by Steve Wilhite regarding the pronunciation of the acronym for his invention, the Graphical Interface Format, or GIF.

A Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed upon him at the 17th Annual Webby Awards, but he took the opportunity to admonish those who insist on using a hard “g” when saying GIF. Yes, GIF as in GIFT, what his expertise gave the world in the form of images that lend themselves to those cute little looping animated clips we all enjoy.

Wilhite prefers the sound of JIF, as in Jiffy Peanut Butter which has been rumored to be a staple in a programmer’s diet. The brand may be unfamiliar to those across the ocean who associate the name with less palatable products, but perhaps the popularity of peanut butter cookies led to the moniker of those surfer-tracking devices.

Cookies made with peanut butter come without a technological implication. However, they may be the breakfast of techno geeks. Photo Credit: Betty Crocker

The software genius even takes offense at the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary which indicates that either pronunciation is acceptable. Stateside in the US, the American Heritage Dictionary also gives its blessing to either pronunciation.

In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary made GIF its “Word of the Year” in December 2012 on the Graphical Interface Format’s 25th birthday, defining it not as a noun, but a verb: “GIF, verb; to create a GIF file of an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event.” One of the competitors for the prize was a distinctly European concern: “Eurogeddon: the potential financial collapse of the Eurozone.” Lexicographers at Oxford University Press track how the vocabulary of the English language changes year to year. Candidates for ‘Word of the Year’ are chosen to reflect the tone of that year and its potential for becoming a word of cultural significance.

Since Wilhite developed the data compressed GIF way back in the stone age days of his CompuServe employment in 1987. He feels a certain ownership which allows him to dictate how people label his creation. He was emphatic and a sign at the Webby Awards showed it

Image file formats come in all types, many familiar, some not so. A few are JPEG, PNG, TIFF, BMP. Vector formats such as SVG, and Stereo formats such as MPO round out the list.

Those who know of the GIF format or use it have varying opinions on how to say the acronym. Many are voiced on the several websites devoted to the topic. CNN showed 294 comments at last count. One comment on the GIF Pronunciation Page made the most sense to this author. It came from Clay McGovern: ”Words are meant only for communication. The salient question is on "Do you understand my meaning when I say 'GIF'?" If the answer is ‘Yes.’ Then the dispute over ‘proper’ pronunciation is absolutely absurd.”

Once a controversy becomes fodder for cartoon characters, you know the topic has reached its zenith.

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