The people have spoken, and it turns out a lot of those people thought "sherbert" was a word!

I say that in the past tense, because I hope that, if you learned anything from this article, it's that you need to take that damn second "r" out sherbet!

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In all seriousness, I am very happy with how the GIF discussions went throughout this week. I have been at the heart of many a GIF flame-war in my days, and it was good to see people thinking rationally about why they pronounce the infamous acronym the way they do. The big question was how the people here on TAY/Kotaku pronounce GIF, and I was surprised to see that the results are about 40% soft G and 55% hard G. I actually expected the hard G to have more of a following, but it turns out they are fairly close. See? We can all get a long now!

If anything, this week's discussion brought up even more word-controversies than I was aware of. There are people that pronounce "gib" (as in, "You got gibbed with my rocket launcher!") with a hard G. Wha?! And what about gigawatt?!

THE LETTER G SUCKS!!!

Thanks for the completely related pic, E1 Salvador! If you have any suggestions for future LTPD topics, feel free to tweet them to me @thesmi1ey.

Original Post

In which I write way too much about the pronunciation of a damn acronym. Also, I now want some sherbet.

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I love a good discussion, and I love polls, so I created Let the People Decide™; a weekly TAY article that presents a topic and a poll on Monday, then summarizes the poll results and discussions on Friday. You can read the previous LTPD entry here.

It has been contested here on Kotaku. It has been debated across the internet. It has been discussed in coffee shops, in living rooms, in schools, and on the job. Should the GIF acronym be pronounced with a hard or soft G? Before we dive into what will probably become a heated debate in the comments, let me set one thing straight:

Both ways of saying GIF are the right way of saying GIF.

Back when the acronym was created, it was pronounced with a soft G because of its similarity to the brand of peanut butter. "Choosy developers choose GIF!" was the slogan that Steve Wilhite and other developers used when the Graphics Interchange Format was first created and released by CompuServe in 1987. Saying GIF with a soft G is the original way to say it, because the developers of the acronym said so.

There is no modern guide for creating and pronouncing acronyms. There is no book that one uses when grouping the first letters (or some of the first letters) of a series of words to form an acronym. In other words, there is no "right" way to create an acronym. Here are a few other acronyms that aren't grammatically pronounced or formed:

  • SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) is pronounced "skoo-ba" rather than "skuh-ba" in spite of how "underwater" is pronounced.
  • NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) leaves three words out of it's acronym, and isn't pronounced "nah-c-p" or "N-A-A-C-P", but rather "N-double-A-C-P".
  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) isn't pronounced "nah-toe", but rather "nay-toe" in spite of how "Atlantic" is pronounced.

The main point being: acronyms are not words, and thus they don't adhere to the same grammatical rules. Saying that GIF with a hard G is the "right" way of saying the acronym because of the hard G in "graphics" is like saying JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) should be pronounced " jay-feg" because the P in "photography" makes an F sound. That's not how acronyms work.

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So why then, do so many people pronounce GIF with a hard G? Well, over 25 years after the format was created, a lot of people now use the word - most without any knowledge of the original creator' s intentions. People have there own reasons for departing from the original pronunciation, whether it's their own preference or the way their parents or friends say it. Or it could just be the fact that the word "gift" is used far more than "giraffe" in modern language. So when someone without knowledge of the original pronunciation sees GIF, they immediately think of "gift" without the T.

This is totally understandable, and there is nothing wrong with it.

Pronunciations, and even spellings of words change based on usage. The common vernacular is constantly changing in different countries and cultures. That's just how language works, whether you like it or not.

Let's take a look at the word "sherbert" as an example. "Sherbert" is not a word. It never was. In fact, it's being underlined by my spell-checker as I type this! If you are describing the fruit-flavored ice cream that tastes great with vanilla, you are talking about sherbet. However, someone at some point in history decided to throw in that extra r at the end, and a large number of people now say and spell sherbet as "sherbert." Because of this, I've actually seen "sherbert" referred to as an "alternate spelling" in various online dictionaries.

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Does this make "sherbert" the wrong way of saying/spelling sherbet? Well yeah, it technically does for now. I have no doubt that "sherbert" will eventually become fully accepted as an alternative spelling of sherbet, and will be added to dictionaries. It is at that point that "sherbert" will become a completely accepted spelling and pronunciation of sherbet. When it comes to GIF, that has already happened.

When you want to pronounce a word or acronym correctly, you go to the dictionary. Right now, the dictionary says the gif and jif are both correct.

One can still try to make an argument that there is only one right way to say GIF, and one would be kind of an ass. There is the original way and the alternative way of saying GIF. Words like "apricot" and "almond" also come with different pronunciations that are fully accepted, so why not GIF?

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How you say GIF is entirely up to you, but don't go around trying to say that your way of saying it is the "right" or "better" way. It is not.

The poll below is not about how you should pronounce GIF, but rather how you do pronounce GIF. Did you start off using a soft G only to cave to peer pressure from the hard G crowd? Did you use a hard G until the heavens opened up and revealed to you that a soft G was the way to go? Let the people decide!

How about a bonus poll? You can never have too many polls.

You can follow Matt "smi1ey" Dunn on Twitter @thesmi1ey, and learn more about him here.