The correct pronunciation of ‘GIF’ has been brought to light again after its creator, Stephen Wilhite sadly passed away from COVID, age 74.
Wilhite’s wife Kathleen confirmed, when speaking with The Verge, her husband passed away on March 14 it said in his obituary ‘even with all his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man’.
Who was Stephen Wilhite?
Stephen Wilhite was an American computer scientist who worked at CompuServe and was the Engineering Lead on the team that adapted the GIF image file format in the 1980s from the earlier Unisys-owned LZW algorithm.
Basically Wilhite was the father of the GIF – those little graphics we all love to use so much when there just isn’t words for it.
The GIF was designed, in 1987, as an ‘exchange and display mechanism for graphic images’ at a time when internet speeds were glacial compared to today, according to his wife.
‘He actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it,’ Kathaleen told The Verge, ‘He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer.’
Besides developing GIFs, the late computer engineer made other key significant contributions to CompuServe that helped it become the internet megastars of the time.
When it comes to favourite GIFs we all have one and, according to an interview with the Times, Wilhite was no exception. In the interview he said one of his favourite GIFs is the dancing baby meme, which went viral before ‘memes‘ and ‘going viral’ were widely used terms.
Pronunciation of ‘GIF’
Although we all love a GIF one thing that is often debated is how it’s actually pronounced. Most of us will say it ‘GIF’ with a hard ‘G’ sound. But according to it’s creator that just isn’t right.
Even though the humble debate carries on to this day, back in 2013, Wilhite told The New York Times: ‘The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.’
So, it looks like we’ve been saying it all wrong these years.
RIP Stephen, the world is a better and funnier place having had you in it.