Creator Says GIF Is Pronounced JIF
May 22, 2013

Animated Image Creator Gave The World A ‘Jift’ Not A Gift

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

So you´ve just been given a lifetime achievement award from the great, ambiguous Internet. What´s the best way to respond to such a prestigious honor? By stoking the coals of a long-burning debate about the pronunciation of a word. It just wouldn´t be the Internet without one person correcting another´s grammar, spelling, punctuation or usage of a word, after all.

Steve Wilhite, the “father of GIFs” accepted the Webby Awards´ Lifetime Achievement award last night for his contributions to the Internet. Instead of giving an acceptance speech, Wilhite let a (non-repeating) GIF spell out his message: “It´s pronounced ℠JIF´, NOT ℠GIF´.”

As it turns out, those rotating and repeating images we´ve grown so fond of in the past several years are actually a piece of retro technology from the 1980s. In those days (around 1987) it was difficult to transfer the kinds of images we see today through telephone wires, much less post such an image on a website. Mr. Wilhite was working with CompuServe at the time, one of the earliest Internet Service Providers, and decided to tackle the problem of images on the web. His company originally wanted a format they could use to display colored weather maps, but Mr. Wilhite´s first image was of a paper airplane.

“I saw the format I wanted in my head and then I started programming,” said Mr. Wilhite in an email to the New York Times.

Those over 30 will remember the earliest days of the GIF – the dancing baby, (Wilhite says this is one of his favorites) under construction animations, cursors endlessly orbiting the word “email” and the like. In that time, GIFs have been used to capture the reaction of a reality TV star, a spectacular diving catch from a sports star, or cats doing something funny.

Which is all well and good to Mr. Wilhite, who is proud that his work is so widely used and respected. What he does mind, however (and this is a seemingly long-running complaint of his) is the way people pronounce it. In fact, Wilhite and his CompuServe crew must´ve known this would be an issue. The ISP used to offer a display program called “CompuShow,” and in the FAQ section of the program they laid it out plain and simple: “The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF", was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.”

CompuShow even shipped with a picture of the program´s creator, Bob Berry standing in front of some rock formations. This image contained a little Easter egg of sorts, viewable only when opened in a GIF editor:

“Oh, Incidentally, it´s pronounced “JIF.”

Despite this, people continued to argue about the hard and soft G´s, some choosing the peanut butter pronunciation, some choosing the gift pronunciation. As the format continues to act as a graphics workhorse around the web, Mr. Wilhite simply wants everyone to know that they´re doing it wrong.

It´s pronounced “JIF,” not “GIF.” You may now proceed through life informed.