Creator Of The GIF Tells Us How To Pronounce It

The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) was among the first graphics files to appear when the Internet started to become a public phenomenon. For a long time, though, it became eclipsed by JPG and other file formats that had the advantage of rendering equal or superior quality graphics in a smaller file size. Recently, though, GIF has been returning to prominence due to the ability to use it to create animations. The one mystery that has remained, though, is how to pronounce the file extension name, with debates between the hard and soft G taking up more time than they probably should. Now, the guy who created the file format has weighed in:

Among the thousands of file formats that exist in modern computing, the GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, has attained celebrity status in a sea of lesser-known BMPs, RIPs, FIGs and MIFFs. It was honored as a “word of the year” in 2012, and Tuesday night, its inventor, Steve Wilhite, will be accepting a lifetime achievement award at The Webby Awards.

Now, almost any fragment of digital culture can be spun up into a grainy, gratifying animation. GIFs provide a platform for nearly everything, it seems — from rapid-fire political commentary to digital art to smallmoments of celebrity intrigue.


Since retiring in 2001, Mr. Wilhite has led a quieter existence than his creation. He goes on RV trips. He built a house in the country with a lot of lawn to mow. He dabbles in color photography and Java programming. He uses e-mail and Facebook to keep up with family.

He is proud of the GIF, but remains annoyed that there is still any debate over the pronunciation of the format.

“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

So, that settles it, right?

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’

    I don’t know if he was being deliberately contradictory for comedic effect, but a J sound is a hard-G, so this doesn’t settle it at all…

  2. Stonetools says:

    He’s wronj!!

  3. Grewgills says:

    Little known fact: Steve Wilhite pronounces graphics ˈdʒræfɪks.

  4. anjin-san says:

    I sense yet another Obama scandal brewing…

  5. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: What? If you actually think that, you are wrong. The whole Internet backs me up.

    Note: it’s possible I may have missed some humor in your post.

  6. @Franklin:

    Nope, I was just wrong. I was under the impression the g as in “gas” was a soft g and g as in “George” was a hard g, but apparently I had that backwards.

  7. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Franklin: Now you’ve gotten me wondering about other consonants with hard and soft pronunciations. C and G are the only ones, right?

  8. Stonetools says:

    It should be a hard G. As any woman will tell you, a hard G is good to find.

  9. Rusty Shackleford says:

    Obama’s gonna say he didn’t hear about it until he read it in the papers like everybody else.

  10. Rodney Dill says:

    …with a long ‘i’ so it rhymes with ‘rife’

  11. James Pearce says:

    If I call if a “Jif” no one will know what I’m talking about. Too late.

  12. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Something mildly interesting about this discussion … if we were talking Japanese, our “hard” g is their “soft” k sound.

    Jenos – Yes, I think those are the only two that use that commonly use the terminology hard vs. soft. I am no cunning linguist, though, so I may be wrong about that.

    /BTW, I also was apparently wrong in pronouncing GIF with the hard g. Probably an aversion to calling it the same thing as a brand of peanut butter.

  13. rudderpedals says:

    After the Compuserve blowup I pronounce it “png”

  14. Formerly known as GIF says:

    GIF is short for Graphics Interchange Format. For that reason alone, I’ve always pronounced it with the hard G.

    Now we can move to how to pronounce many things in Iceland.