It is a question that creates tension in friendships and divides families: How do you pronounce GIF?
The Graphics Interchange Format that makes fun looped image files possible also sparks heated debate in its shortened form. Is it a hard g like graphics or a soft g like gym? The Economist suggests that it’s a regional question.
Recently, the programming forum Stack Overflow posed the question to 50,000 people in 200 countries, and found that for the most part, the hard g wins out. While 65 percent of survey respondents went for the hard g, only 26 percent argued for the soft g.
But as the data team at The Economist points out, it’s a question that has built-in linguistic biases. If your native language doesn’t have a hard g sound, you probably use the soft g to pronounce GIF, and vice versa. Almost 80 percent of the poll respondents came from language backgrounds that would bias them toward the hard g sound, even though those languages make up just 45 percent of the world population. The Economist’s calculations found that weighted by population, Europe and the U.S. are biased toward the hard g pronunciation, but in emerging economies (defined by the World Bank), it’s not so clear cut.
Because there’s a third option that English-speaking nerds rarely duke it out over: the individual letter pronunciation, which appears to have made significant inroads in Asia. According to the poll, it’s more common in China and South Korea to enunciate each letter in GIF. Half of respondents from China opted for that choice, as did a full 70 percent of South Korean respondents. Explore the map visualization of the data here.
That said, GIF creator Steve Wilhite uses the soft g, like JIF. Do with that what you will.
[h/t The Economist]