Hard or soft?

Although I’m somewhat leery about doing so, I’ve decided to chime in my 2¢ about the hard-G/soft-G pronunciation debate for GIF files. But if you’re looking to either praise me or flame me for my choice, you’re going to be disappointed. I’m not making any statements here as to which pronunciation I prefer, and I’m definitely not going to say anything ill toward those who use the pronunciation I don’t prefer.

GIF—an increasingly ancient image file format—is an acronym that stands for Graphics Interchange Format. On one side of the argument, people insist that GIF should be pronounced with a hard G because the word “Graphics” uses a hard G. It’s a completely valid rationale.

On the other hand, the whole point of an acronym is to provide an easy-to-remember-and-pronounce shortcut to refer to a longer phrase. Prior to the creation of GIF files, no one had ever heard of such a word as “GIF” with a hard G. People had, however, heard the sound of “jif,” as in, “Be there in a jiff” or “It’ll only take a jiffy to get it done.” Indeed, the recent blow-up on social media was spawned by GIF creator Steve Wilhite supposedly laying down law that it’s pronounced with a soft G and was based on the sound of the word “jiffy,” in particular its reference to a specific measurement of time in computer parlance.

There is also plenty of precedent for acronyms not being spoken with the same pronunciation for each letter as the word that letter represents. If that were the rule for acronyms, we’d all be saying “SKUH-baa” for SCUBA instead of “SKOO-buh.”

Inversely true is the complete lack of precedent for hard sounds needing to be soft, otherwise we might be saying “NAA-zuh” for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In the end, conveying clear meaning is all that’s really important, combined with the fact that most writing style guides simply say to “pick one and be consistent” whenever two versions of a style are regarded as equally correct.

So, I hope we can all just realize really soon that, regardless which pronunciation you use, essentially everyone understands that you’re talking about the old, CompuServe-owned graphic format. It doesn’t matter how you pronounce it—just as no one gets into a tizz over some people putting their left shoe on first and others putting their right shoe on first.

It. Just. Doesn’t. Matter.

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