Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified David Karp, the founder of Tumblr. This version has been updated.
It happened during the Tumblr summit.
You can’t talk Tumblr without talking GIFs. And President Obama did. For him, it’s the hard G.
“Do you see the JIF?” asked Tumblr founder David Karp.
“A GIF,” President Obama said. “I’m all on top of it.”
“So you made up your mind?” Karp pursued. “It’s GIF?”
“That is my official position. I pondered it a long time.”
So, it’s official: We still have no consensus on how to pronounce GIF. Karp joked that this was now the correct pronunciation, by executive order.
This pronunciation battle has raged on much longer and more bitterly than anyone expected. Last year at around this time, the inventor of the format said he wanted a soft G. “Jeopardy!” repeated this request last December. But people have stuck to their hard-G guns, and now the president is on their side. Some dictionaries permit both pronunciations. Some permit only one. The controversy refuses to die.
Everyone is entrenched. “What side were you on in the GIF wars, Daddy?” our children will inquire.
“The right side,” we will sniff.
It has gotten to the point where I no longer dare to pronounce the word at all. It is the only way to survive.
“A — one of those graphic things that moves,” I will say, taking my cue from the person I am speaking to. “Jhif? Ghif? Yeef? Zhiff? Who knows, right? Don’t hurt me!”
I think this is the correct level of precaution. In the course of talking about this pronunciation, I have had at least one person tell me that “I know what side people who agreed to change to the soft G would have been on in Germany in 1938.” I am not making this up.
If you ever wonder how much more we communicate by text these days: This is how much. This major, frequently used online term still has no one clear correct pronunciation. This is just proof that you don’t actually ever need to say much of anything out loud if you don’t really want to.
Sure, the president has planted a flag — ever since he’s been on Tumblr, in fact. But it’s still far from settled.