Is pronunciation subjective? If we’ve learned anything from the GIF vs JIF debate, the answer is a resounding yes.
The battle over how GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, is pronounced has been deemed “The Most Absurd Religious War in Greek History” and dates back to the dawn of the World Wide Web.
“As we explained when GIF was selected as Oxford Dictonaries USA Word of the Year 2012, GIF may be pronounced with either a soft g, as in giant, or a hard g, as in graphic. The programmers who developed the format preferred a pronunciation with a soft g – in homage to the commercial tagline of the peanut butter brand Jif, they supposedly quipped, ‘choosy developers choose GIF.’ However, the pronunciation with a hard g is now very widespread and readily understood.”
If people believe there is a logical reason for their pronunciation (e.g. that the g in GIF stands for “graphics”) they “aren’t apt to give it up.”
The big obstacle in pronunciation, according to Elizabeth Pyatt, a linguist at Penn State, is our pride. In an interview with The New York Times, she claimed people are concerned with they way they pronounce words because it’s a marker of cultural status. Mispronouncing a word can “cause feelings of shame and inadequacy,” so if people believe there is a logical reason for their pronunciation (e.g. that the g in GIF stands for “graphics”) they “aren’t apt to give it up.”
If you’re like me, and count yourself in the hard g camp, I wouldn’t throw in the towel any time soon. Language is a fluid thing. Just as the meaning of words change over time, so too can their “official” pronunciation.
So, Mr. Whittle, I say this with all due respect: you may have won a battle last year. But the war is far from over.