GIF is a word that is only about thirty years old but has undergone quite an evolution in meaning. And even though GIFs are now pervasive, many people are still unaware of the correct pronunciation.
The word GIF is in reality an acronym for Graphic Interchange Format. This method of rendering a computer file compresses the image, rendering the file smaller without degrading the quality of the image. These smaller image files proved extremely handy in the days of the dial-up modem. The GIF was first introduced by CompuServe in 1987. The first GIFs were static, but soon included animation. These early animated GIFs were sequential static images, today GIFs are almost always looping video images. The word GIF has evolved from denoting a certain type of computer file to commonly meaning a short, looped animated image. The word GIF is still rendered in capitals in the Oxford English Dictionary, but is often found rendered in lowercase letters, as in gif. It seems that GIF is well on its way to being considered a word, rather than an acronym. The plural form is properly rendered as GIFs, with a lowercase “s“. As for the pronunciation of GIF, the inventor of the GIF, Steve Wilhite, told the New York Times in 2013, “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
Despite the obvious joke of setting files on fire, acknowledged with a winking plea to “extinguish all GIFs before leaving the vicinity,” the anger was real and the mission was earnest: to free the web from the scourge of the GIF once and for all. (Popular Mechanics Magazine)
We live in a world where I can find about 8,000 separate GIFs of Gizmo shooting a bow and arrow in Gremlins 2, but not a single GIF of Thailand’s Witthaya Thamwong edging out Chinese Taipei’s Wei Chun-heng in the archery competition on Monday. (GQ Magazine)