Thursday, 23 May 2013


The Guardian has an article on Steven Wilhite, the inventor of the Graphics Interchange Format, who apparently insists that GIF should be pronounced with /dʒ/ and not /g/. Why? Because that's what the creators of the word intended.

The OED lists both pronunciations. But:
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.” 
There's even a song, where we're told "you can't go around using words all willy-nilly."

I'm not convinced by any of this. The notion that a word's pronunciation is defined by the creators of that word strikes me as a variant of the etymological fallacy. In order to determine how a word is used and pronounced, the origin of the word is irrelevant. What's relevant is how the speakers of the language use and pronounce it now. And speakers of the language have decided to use both pronunciations.

1 comment :

Faldone said...

There is a file extension, .jif, that, it seems to me, would be pronounced the way Wilhite wants .gif to be pronounced. Granted it's not a very commonly used file extension, but still. Any chance we have to avoid ambiguity should be taken.