Tell Us How You Pronounce GIF, and We’ll Tell You Where You’re From

The debate may not be resolved, but we may have just gotten one step closer.

There’s no denying it: This age-old question has turned into a heated—and relationship-ending!—debate. And no, it has nothing to do with politics or religion. The real query is actually much more contentious. How do you pronounce GIF?

Tell-Us-How-You-Pronounce-GIF,-and-We’ll-Tell-You-Where-You’re-FromTatiana Ayazo/

Some say it with a hard g (like gum), while others use soft one (like George). But in the end, only one pronunciation can rule the day. For years, the debate over what to call these looped image files, also called Graphics Interchange Format, seemed unresolvable—until now. According to The Economist, the answer might simply come down to where you’re from. (We’ll also know where you grew up if you say these 9 words.)

The computer-programming forum Stack Overflow recently ran the question by 50,000 people in 200 countries. Their results? The hard g took home the victory, with 65 percent of survey respondents using the pronunciation. Meanwhile, only 26 percent went for the soft g.

Tell-Us-How-You-Pronounce-GIF,-and-We’ll-Tell-You-Where-You’re-FromTatiana Ayazo/

Debate solved, right? Well, not necessarily. The data analysts at The Economist noted that the question had “built-in linguistic biases.” A hard g doesn’t exist in some languages, so those speakers probably use a soft g to pronounce GIF. Vice-versa for those who don’t have a soft g in their native tongues. Unfortunately, the survey was a bit misrepresentative; although languages that favor the hard g sound make up just 45 percent of the world’s population, almost 80 percent of the poll’s respondents came from those language backgrounds.

On top of that, participants from Asian countries took a third—and often-forgotten—stance: pronouncing each individual letter. According to the poll, enunciating it as gee-eye-eff is common among the Chinese and South Koreans. While around half of respondents from China opted for that choice, 70 percent of South Korean respondents did, too.

Tell-Us-How-You-Pronounce-GIF,-and-We’ll-Tell-You-Where-You’re-FromTatiana Ayazo/

Still, when all is said and done, GIF creator Steve Wilhite did say that he uses the soft g. So who is the real winner here? (Don’t worry; even smart people mispronounce these words.)

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