It’s settled! Creator tells us how to pronounce ‘GIF’

Posted at 10:45 AM, May 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-22 12:45:34-04

(CNN) — We can’t settle iPhone vs. Android or “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek” for you. But another long-running geek debate was put to rest Tuesday night.

Those short, animated loops that have captivated the Web for decades? They’re pronounced like a brand of peanut butter.

Steve Wilhite created the Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, while working for Compuserve in 1987. On Tuesday, he received a Webby Award for it and delivered his five-word acceptance speech (that’s all the Webbys allow) by flashing a GIF on the big screens at the Cipriani Wall Street in New York.

And, in a flash, it all became clear:

“It’s pronounced JIF, not GIF.”

Of course, in the grand tradition of heated debate, a flat statement of fact by the creator wasn’t enough to sway some partisans. On Twitter, “GIF” became a trending topic as some folks pushed back.

“Graphics Interchange Format. Graphics. Not Jraphics. #GIF #hardg,” wrote Web designer Dan Cederholm.

“So instead of GIF, we’ve got to say JIF? YEAH RIGHT,” chimed in October Jones, creator of the “Texts From Dog” Tumblr and book. “And I suppose those animals with long necks are called ‘JIRAFFES.'”

And, of course, the peanut butter brand was getting lots of free publicity along the way. The always amusing HAL 9000 account (yes, somebody tweets as the robot from “2001”) posted an “animated JIF” — which is to say, a swirling, animated jar of the tasty, high-protein spread.

(As of Wednesday morning, Jif had not weighed in on the debate on its official Twitter feed. It did, however, post a tasty-looking recipe for Grilled Salmon With Hoisin Peanut Butter Sauce.)

Animated GIFs were a staple of the early Internet. Remember The Dancing Baby? That’s a GIF.

They fell out of favor as more advanced graphics technology emerged. But in the past couple of years, the Web has remembered how much fun it is to watch ridiculous things happen over and over again.

Appropriately, Wilhite received his Lifetime Achievement Award from David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, one prominent place where GIFs found a new fanbase.

In less publicized interviews, Wilhite had argued for the soft-G pronunciation for years. So, will a widely covered “speech” in front of some of the Web’s most influential folks finally be the turning point?

Maybe not.

Last month, no less an authority than the White House posted an image on its new Tumblr feed advocating for the hard-G. And the Oxford English Dictionary says both pronunciations are acceptable.

So, here’s wishing Mr. Wilhite “Jood Luck.”

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