Some questions will be pondered for all eternity. What is the meaning of life? Where do you go when you die? And even more puzzlingly, what is the right way to pronounce “GIF”? The Graphics Interchange Format, a file type commonly associated with web animations, is older than the world wide web itself. Debates over whether it begins with a hard “g”, as in “gift”, or a soft one, as in “giraffe”, can make discussions about religion or politics look civil by comparison. Well aware of the risk that taking a side could lead to protests, boycotts or worse, the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster have maintained strict neutrality. They proclaim that both pronunciations are acceptable, betraying nary a hint of favouritism.
With the lexicographical authorities resigned to a “descriptivist” approach, following words and pronunciations wherever the unwashed masses go, those determined to resolve the question once and for all are taking matters into their own hands. In a recent survey Stack Overflow, a forum for computer programmers, asked over 50,000 users in nearly 200 countries a battery of questions. The study began with softball inquiries, such as what respondents had studied and how long they had been coding. Only once they felt at ease and were likely to share their true sentiments, rather than providing whatever they believed was the “politically correct” answer, did the poll segue to its highly sensitive aim: the pronunciation of GIF.
Image courtesy of The Economist.