Excuse me, do you speak acronym?

May 11, 2014

What the GIF?

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss the pronunciation of the word “GIF” and the role of technology in producing new words.

Technology has given us the new word GIF and we have to figure out how to pronounce it. According to Curzan, there is a debate about that.

“A ‘GIF’ is a computer file format used for the compression and storage of digital video images. It’s an acronym for Graphic Interchange Format, which goes back to 1987,” Curzan says.

Upon further investigation by Curzan into the word GIF, she found that the original creator of the word elaborated on the proper pronunciation of GIF.

“I looked into this and it turns out that the creators of this – and Steve Wilhite is the original creator – believe firmly that it is ‘JIF’, not ‘GIF’, they say ‘JIF’ like the peanut butter. When Steve Wilhite won a Webby Award in 2013, he gave this acceptance speech in a GIF on the screen: ‘Its pronounced JIF, not GIF.’”

There are also other technological acronyms that have more than one pronunciation, such as WAV or PNG. The influences behind the multiple pronunciations of technological acronyms can vary.

How do you pronounce technological acronyms? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

– Omar Saadeh, Michigan Radio Newsroom