How Do Linguists Pronounce GIF?

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Oscar Tay:

Oh dear, this is going to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I wish we could just accept our tomopotatine differences and be understanding of other ways of doing things and learn to live in harmony but sadly, it’s pronounced with a soft “g” you mindless misacronymers.

Let’s hear it from the other side first—that is, the people who like Sven Williams in his answer to this question believe it should start with the hard “g” of misguided. The most common argument in favor of the hard-g-GIF is that GIF is an abbreviation for “graphics interchange format,” and should therefore be pronounced with the hard “g” of graphics.

The problem with this is that this isn’t how acronyms work: They’re pronounced according to typical word-pronunciation rules, which I went over recently here. The most famous counterexample is JPEG, short for “Joint Photographic Experts Group”; by the logic of the hard-g-graphics argument, you should pronounce “JPEG” as jay-pheg instead of the mainstream jay-peg because of the “ph” at the beginning of photographic.

Howtoreallypronouncegif.com, in favor of the hard-gif, adds that most single-syllable English words spelled with a “g” use it to make the hard g sound:

Gab. Gad. Gag. Gal. Gam. Gap. Gas. Gay. Get. Gig. Gill. Gimp. Gird. Girl. Git!
Give. Go. Goal. Gob. God. Gone. Gore. Got. Guide. Guild. Guilt. Gull.
Gulp. Gum. Gun. Gust. Gut. Guy. The word “gift” is the closest word to
GIF, and it has a hard G. To pronounce GIF, just say gift without the "t."

The website then unconvincingly disregards gin, gem, gym, geo, and gel, saying that gin comes from Dutch, which makes it ineligible for some reason, that gem comes from Latin gemma, which also mysteriously renders it negligible, and that the latter three don’t count because they’re short for longer words.

These arguments shall not stand for those who know it is rightly pronounced with the soft “g” of legitimate. The soft-gif camp is well-known for having the original creator of the GOF, Steve Wilhite, on our side. In his 2013 acceptance speech at the Webby awards, he offered these five words of wisdom:

I’ll let that stand for itself. Not convinced?

In CompuServe’s FAQs, they clearly state that “The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF," was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.”

Besides this staggering monument of truth on the screen before ye, there are plenty of solid arguments for the softer pronunciation. Howtoreallypronouncegif.com argues that the soft-gif is unintuitive, and everyone says hard-gif on their first acquaintance with the acronym, so “jif” is wrong.

Not so, we say; there are plenty of immediately difficult words that we have to learn to say properly as we get older: yacht, chthonic, colonel, epitome, syncope, Worcestershire, and so on. There is no good reason that gif cannot be one of these—and, even there, it is ever as understandable as gin, which the scheming Howtoreallypronouncegif.com tosses aside without reason.

We’ve every prescriptive reason to believe that soft-gif—the jif, the beacon of truth in the wars of the internet—is the one true pronunciation. It is with this that I close my case; do with it what you will.

Now, objectively, neither is especially correct. Both hard- and soft-gifs are in common use. Linguists are, as Daniel Ross goes over in more detail here, supposed to describe how language is used, not how it should be used, so the question as it stands won’t help you any more than the discussion at How do you pronounce "GIF"?.

This answer is largely tongue-in-cheek, as you might have guessed. I do use the soft-gif, but there’s no real problem with the other pronunciation. There are arguments for and against each, and I’ve lain out some above, but ultimately it comes down to what you and your friends want to say. According to The New York Times:

"Cultures typically associate a “standard” pronunciation as a marker of status. Mispronouncing a word—even a technical term—can cause feelings of shame and inadequacy. If people believe there is a logical basis for their pronunciation, they are not apt to give it up."

However, I still stick to my arguments in favour of soft-gif. To answer your question, both are objectively fine ways of saying GIF, but if you pronounce it with a hard “g” I do think you’re very wrong indeed.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

Some three decades after he earned his doctorate, in 1989, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article was originally published in 2013.

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