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How to pronounce GIF, and other English language Boehners

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner: The “oeh” in his name is sounded like a long A, not a long O.

YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS

In a mispronunciation scandal that John Boehner would probably appreciate, the inventor of the GIF – the popular animated computer program that can make babies and superheroes dance – has revealed that most people have been saying the name of his creation incorrectly for more than 25 years.

The G at the beginning is pronounced like a J, says Steve Wilhite. "The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations," Mr. Wilhite told The New York Times this week. "They are wrong. It is a soft 'G,' pronounced 'jif.' End of story."

GIF is an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, so the hard G makes sense on the surface. But Mr. Wilhite insists he and his fellow programmers at CompuServe, where he invented the GIF in 1987, called it a "jif." The pronunciation was chosen because it mimicked the name of a popular peanut butter brand called Jif.

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But it never caught on, to Mr. Wilhite's terminal annoyance. Most people, especially those outside of the programming world, assumed the G was hard. Mr. Wilhite tried once again to set the record straight this week when he won a lifetime achievement award at the Webby Awards, and that touched off a social-media storm that overtook the celebration of his achievement.

The vast majority of people commenting on Twitter were shocked to learn they were saying GIF wrong, but few had plans to change. Once a name has become fixed in popular culture, it's difficult to get people to switch the way they say it.

The much-unloved Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Boehner, knows a thing or two about that. (The "oeh" in his name is sounded like a long A, not a long O).

So does the inventor of another classic bit of modern history. Bob Moog created the famous synthesizer that bears his name – and which virtually everyone mispronounces. Moog doesn't rhyme with mood; it rhymes with "mogue," as in vogue. They should make a GIF about it.

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