Hillary Clinton takes a hard line on pronouncing “GIF”
Hillary Clinton—aka, the most qualified human being ever to run for the office of the President of the United States—just gave Americans one more compelling reason to vote for her on
November 28, er, November 8.
Thyrsday,October 13, during a speech at a San Francisco fundraiser, Clinton declared—in reference to the negative tone of her Republican opponent Donald Trump and his many insulting references to immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, veterans. the disabled, women (basically everyone but himself):
“There’s hardly any part of America that he has not targeted. Now it makes you want to turn off the news. It makes you want to unplug the Internet or just look at cat GIFs.
“Believe me, I get it. In the last few weeks, I’ve watched a lot of cats do a lot of weird and interesting things. But we have a job to do and it will be good for people and for cats.”
In her wholly relateable way, Clinton surely echoed the sentiments of millions of people (and cats) who have been nauseated by Donald Trump’s divisive and abuse-filled campaign.
The Democratic presidential nominee and former U.S. First Lady, New York Senator and U.S. Secretary of State, further demonstrated her fitness for the highest office in the land by correctly pronouncing the word “GIF” with a hard “G”—as in “gift, or “govern”, rather than with a soft “G”, as in “gentleman”, or “genitalia”.
Pronounce it like you have a mouthful of peanut butter?
The question of how to pronounce the acronym for the Graphic Interchange Format has been around almost from the moment the image format was created by the online service CompuServe in 1987. But it wasn’t until the first decade of the public Internet (1995-2005) that the pronunciation of GIF became a widespread popular issue, further dividing co-workers and family members already split over many of the other burning polarities of the day, such as Mac vs. PC, Netscape vs. Internet Explorer, AVI vs. QuickTime, Patti Smith vs. Patty Smythe, or Clinton vs. Dole vs. Perot.
All of these old controversies are history now, with the exception of the proper pronunciation of GIF.
After 2005 the GIF vs. JIF debate also appeared to mercifully fade into irrelevance as the GIF format itself was seemingly supplanted by other, more modern, image formats, such as JPEG (jay-peg) and PNG (pee-en-gee).
However, the GIF format rebounded in popularity, largely because social media users embraced the small, looping animations, which the format excels at.
Animated GIFs (of cats or whatever) are so popular now that at the beginning of 2016 the online messaging service Twitter actually made easy searching for GIFs a cornerstone of its much-publicized effort to kick-start its stalled user growth.
It should actually come as no surprise that Hillary Clinton pronounces “GIF” the proper way; not only is she very smart but she’s friends with the guy who “invented the Internet” and she served as U.S. President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013.
FYI the POTUS says “GIF”, not “JIF”
President Obama actually went on record in 2014 at a White House event broadcast online via Tumblr to say that the hard “G” pronunciation of GIF was his “official position”. In this he gently disagreed with Tumblr CEO David Karp, who pronounced it “JIF”.
It should also be said that programmer Steve Wilhite, who created the GIF format for CompuServe in 1987, also prefers to pronounce it like the name of the well-know brand of peanut butter—as he demonstrated when he accepted a Webby Award in 2013.
This only illustrates that programming acumen doesn’t necessarily extend to pronunciation.
The important thing is that it’s easy to say and understand
In words, the letter g is usually pronounced hard when followed by a, o, or u (goose, gander, guppy) and soft when followed by i, e, or y (giraffe, gender, image).
However, there is a clear exception for acronyms, which are abbreviations that stand for other words. The letters in acronyms are usually pronounced hard (UN, BBC, CBC, FBI).
An exception to this exception is often made when an acronym is easier to say as a single word than as a string of letters. So the acronym for United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration—UNRRA—is always pronounced “unraw”..
The deciding factor, ultimately, is ease of usage and comprehension, as demonstrated by the way the acronym JPEG is pronounced as “jay-peg”—partly as an acronym and partly as a word—rather than “juh-peg” (which sounds dumb) or “jay-pee-eee-gee (which is a mouthful).
As for pronouncing GIF, “gee-if” is likewise goofy and “gee-eye-eff” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Ultimately the argument for pronouncing GIF as a word beginning with a hard rather than a soft G comes down to the need for clear comprehension. The “JIF” pronunciation allows people to misunderstand and think that the acronym begins with the letter J, which is wrong and could lead to people confusing it with the JPEG format.
One of the words Trash-talking Trump hasn’t mangled
Ironically, of all the people who have staked out their position on the pronunciation of GIF, one who hasn’t is Donald Trump. I can find no instance of the round-the-clock power-user of Twitter employing the word in a speech.
But then it may be better that Trump keeps his pronunciation to himself, given the way that he mispronounced “Nevada” earlier this month, while lecturing Nevadans on how the name of their state should be pronounced and considering the rather disturbing way that the word “China” always comes out of his mouth somewhere between “China” and “gyna”.