What GIF Stands for and How to Pronounce It

Most everyone uses them, and most people have a very firm opinion on how to pronounce the acronym.

In today’s world, you probably say “GIF” all the time. Hey, you probably even send one every once in a while—especially if you’re like me and throw a couple into all kinds of written conversations every day. Even though GIFs are so widely used, many people don’t even know what the term means, let alone how to pronounce it correctly. Although this acronym is commonly mispronounced, we’re here to crack the code for you, starting with an explanation of what a GIF actually is. And find out the difference between acronym vs. abbreviation while you’re at it.

What is a GIF?

At its most basic level, a GIF is simply an image file. You’re most likely familiar with animated GIFs, which are a series of still GIF images strung together to create a soundless short looping graphic that often looks like a video. The way it’s created means that, unlike a video, the file size is small and easily sharable via text, email, social media, etc. GIFs were originally created by American computer scientist Steve Wilhite in 1987 as a way to compress images for purposes of file downloading, animation, and simple graphics on the slow, low bandwidth dial-up Internet connections of the day. GIFs are now primarily used to send hyperbolic reactions on social media. Something you might react to with a shocked GIF? These company names you can’t pronounce.

Cat Working GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

What does GIF stand for?

Did you know that “GIF” is actually an acronym? There has been some debate surrounding the question of what does GIF stand for, but creator Wilhite confirmed that GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. The name was chosen by Wilhite and his team specifically so they could call it a GIF. Wilhite has been very adamant that he is upset people are mispronouncing the acronym. This leads us to our next question: How do you actually pronounce GIF? It can’t be as hard as these mispronounced words that even the smartest people get wrong.

Butter Highlander GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

How to pronounce GIF

There are two schools of thought on how to pronounce GIF. Most people take the hard “g” sound (like in the word “guess”) from the word “graphics,” in Graphics Interchange Format, and pronounce the word /ɡɪf/.

A smaller group of people use a soft “g” (like in the word “gibberish”), because grammatically, a “g” followed by the vowel “i” tends to be pronounced with a soft “g.” This leads to GIF being pronounced “jif,” like the peanut butter brand. In fact, this was what creator Steve Wilhite had in mind when he named it, and he has since come forward and confirmed that this was how he intended GIF to be pronounced.

Despite this edict from above, people still partake in animated debates about the GIF pronunciation. Both Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary have both pronunciations listed, so no matter how you say it, you’re technically correct. If you thought pronouncing GIF was hard, you’ll be stumped by these hard words to pronounce in English.

Dog Human Eating GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

How to use a GIF

While you definitely want to nail the GIF pronunciation, knowing how to use a GIF is most important. But first, you need to know where to look. The easiest way to find a GIF is by using the GIF search bar that is found in your messages and on various social media apps. The icon looks different depending on your phone and what app you are using, but it usually looks like a small image (easily mixed up with the camera icon) and is located in the box where you would type. Once you find the search bar, the function is easy to use. Type in the emotion you would like to convey and you’ll have a bunch of moving images to choose from. GIFs are kind of like emojis taken to the next level. Try using them in place of an emoji to get your point across even more. Many GIFs tend to be funny, so this could add some humor and relatability to what you are trying to say. They also could stand on their own as a reaction response to the other person. Now that you know what GIF stands for, how to pronounce GIF, and how to use a GIF, get ready to settle another perplexing question: What does ICYMI stand for?

Sources

  • Smithsonian Magazine: “A Brief History of the GIF, From Early Internet Innovation to Ubiquitous Relic”
  • CNN: “It’s settled! Creator tells us how to pronounce ‘GIF’”
  • NPR: “GIF Talk: Do You Say It With A G Or A J?”
  • Merriam-Webster: “GIF”
  • Lexico: “GIF”

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Isabel Roy
Isabel Roy has been a writer and editor for RD.com since February of 2019. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing and Rhetoric. She is thrilled to be living and working in the Big Apple although she misses the easy access to freshly made Wisconsin cheese curds and Kopps Custard. When not at the Reader’s Digest office, you can find her downing too many chai lattes and rereading her favorite Harry Potter books.