How Do Linguists Pronounce GIF?

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Oscar Tay:

Oh dear, this is going to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I wish we could just accept our tomopotatine differences and be understanding of other ways of doing things and learn to live in harmony but sadly, it’s pronounced with a soft “g” you mindless misacronymers.

Let’s hear it from the other side first—that is, the people who like Sven Williams in his answer to this question believe it should start with the hard “g” of misguided. The most common argument in favor of the hard-g-GIF is that GIF is an abbreviation for “graphics interchange format,” and should therefore be pronounced with the hard “g” of graphics.

The problem with this is that this isn’t how acronyms work: They’re pronounced according to typical word-pronunciation rules, which I went over recently here. The most famous counterexample is JPEG, short for “Joint Photographic Experts Group”; by the logic of the hard-g-graphics argument, you should pronounce “JPEG” as jay-pheg instead of the mainstream jay-peg because of the “ph” at the beginning of photographic.

Howtoreallypronouncegif.com, in favor of the hard-gif, adds that most single-syllable English words spelled with a “g” use it to make the hard g sound:

Gab. Gad. Gag. Gal. Gam. Gap. Gas. Gay. Get. Gig. Gill. Gimp. Gird. Girl. Git!
Give. Go. Goal. Gob. God. Gone. Gore. Got. Guide. Guild. Guilt. Gull.
Gulp. Gum. Gun. Gust. Gut. Guy. The word “gift” is the closest word to
GIF, and it has a hard G. To pronounce GIF, just say gift without the "t."

The website then unconvincingly disregards gin, gem, gym, geo, and gel, saying that gin comes from Dutch, which makes it ineligible for some reason, that gem comes from Latin gemma, which also mysteriously renders it negligible, and that the latter three don’t count because they’re short for longer words.

These arguments shall not stand for those who know it is rightly pronounced with the soft “g” of legitimate. The soft-gif camp is well-known for having the original creator of the GOF, Steve Wilhite, on our side. In his 2013 acceptance speech at the Webby awards, he offered these five words of wisdom:

I’ll let that stand for itself. Not convinced?

In CompuServe’s FAQs, they clearly state that “The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced "JIF," was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.”

Besides this staggering monument of truth on the screen before ye, there are plenty of solid arguments for the softer pronunciation. Howtoreallypronouncegif.com argues that the soft-gif is unintuitive, and everyone says hard-gif on their first acquaintance with the acronym, so “jif” is wrong.

Not so, we say; there are plenty of immediately difficult words that we have to learn to say properly as we get older: yacht, chthonic, colonel, epitome, syncope, Worcestershire, and so on. There is no good reason that gif cannot be one of these—and, even there, it is ever as understandable as gin, which the scheming Howtoreallypronouncegif.com tosses aside without reason.

We’ve every prescriptive reason to believe that soft-gif—the jif, the beacon of truth in the wars of the internet—is the one true pronunciation. It is with this that I close my case; do with it what you will.

Now, objectively, neither is especially correct. Both hard- and soft-gifs are in common use. Linguists are, as Daniel Ross goes over in more detail here, supposed to describe how language is used, not how it should be used, so the question as it stands won’t help you any more than the discussion at How do you pronounce "GIF"?.

This answer is largely tongue-in-cheek, as you might have guessed. I do use the soft-gif, but there’s no real problem with the other pronunciation. There are arguments for and against each, and I’ve lain out some above, but ultimately it comes down to what you and your friends want to say. According to The New York Times:

"Cultures typically associate a “standard” pronunciation as a marker of status. Mispronouncing a word—even a technical term—can cause feelings of shame and inadequacy. If people believe there is a logical basis for their pronunciation, they are not apt to give it up."

However, I still stick to my arguments in favour of soft-gif. To answer your question, both are objectively fine ways of saying GIF, but if you pronounce it with a hard “g” I do think you’re very wrong indeed.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

What's the Difference Between Mold and Mildew?

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iStock.com/AndreasReh

We’re all familiar with colorful spots of something growing in our showers and in other dark, damp areas in our homes, but you may not know what to call it. Is it mold, or is it mildew? What is the difference between the two, anyway?

Both terms refer to fungus, but as it happens, it’s a squares-versus-rectangles situation. Mildew is a type of mold. The term typically describes fungi that grows flat, on surfaces like the walls of your shower or window sills. There are also several types of mildew that are specific to plants—powdery mildew and downy mildew are parasites that grow on certain trees, flowers, and crops, for example. While mold might be a colorful green or black, mildew is typically white.

The word mildew originally came from honeydew, a term for sticky secretions aphids and other insects leave on plants, which people used to think came from the sky, like dew. Eventually, the word came to refer to the mold caused by the fungi that fed on these secretions.

Leaves covered in white powder
Powdery mildew on maple leaves
iStock.com/kazakovmaksim

Most of the household growths we refer to as mold belong to just a few families of fungi species. According to the CDC, the most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria. Household molds can be a variety of colors, from orange-brown to green to gray to black. (Note that not all mold that is black in color is the more toxic species we call “black mold,” or Stachybotrys.) In contrast to the powdery texture of mildew, molds are typically fuzzy or slimy.

In nature, mold can play an important role in the ecosystem, breaking down dead plants and leaves. In your house, those decomposition abilities aren’t quite so welcome. Mold spores fly through the air, and when they land in moist places, they start to grow—whether that’s on food, your ceiling, paper products, wood, carpet, leather, or elsewhere around your house—and in the process, destroy whatever they're growing on. Unlike mildew, most molds grow down into the surface of its habitat, making them more difficult to remove. In porous materials, mold grows into all the empty crevices, which is why it is often impossible to remove all the mold from ceiling tiles (or soft foods like bread).

Mold growing under a windowsill and near the carpet of a home
Mold growing in a Nashville home following a flood
Martin Grube, FEMA // Public Domain

Getting rid of the unsightly growth in your damp bathroom is more than just a matter of aesthetics. Indoor mold can cause allergic reactions, such as a stuffy nose or itchy eyes, and can lead to infections for people with compromised immune systems. Some people are more sensitive to mold than others, and may experience more symptoms when exposed to it. Generally speaking, though, mold spores are everywhere, so you’re never going to live a totally mold-free life. Spores will come into your home through windows, doorways, ventilation and climate control systems, and via your clothing, shoes, and pets.

But there’s only one way to effectively inhibit mold growth at home: Get rid of the moisture. That means fixing leaks, getting better ventilation, and possibly running a dehumidifier, according to the CDC’s recommendations on mold.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What Happens to Films Selected for Preservation by the Library of Congress?

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On Wednesday morning, the Library of Congress announced its latest slate of movies selected for permanent safekeeping in the National Film Registry. As always, the picks varied widely. The National Film Registry’s class of 2018 includes Cinderella (1950), My Fair Lady (1964), Jurassic Park (1993), The Shining (1980), Smoke Signals (1998), and the animated short Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People (1984), which was produced by Ayoka Chenzira, one of the first black female animators.

Originally established in 1988, the National Film Preservation Act tasks the board with selecting American films that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically" significant. They can pick up to 25 per year, and the movies must be at least 10 years old. The National Film Preservation Board is made up of representatives from a number of industry organizations, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Directors Guild of America, and the National Society of Film Critics. With the new selections, there are 750 films in the registry.

Selection for the registry is an honor, of course, but what does it mean beyond that? How does the Library of Congress, the U.S. legislature’s storage agency for documents and media, go about preserving movies?

According to Steve Leggett, program coordinator for the National Film Preservation Board, selection implores the Library of Congress to get the best possible copy of the film in its original format and store it in their vaults at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. This ensures the film will be available to future generations.

For Hollywood movies, the process is usually pretty easy. “We simply ask the studio to donate a copy,” Leggett told Mental Floss in 2015. In some cases, that isn’t even necessary. The Library of Congress has more than 1 million films on file, many of them sent by studios or filmmakers for the sake of copyright registry. When the original Star Wars was selected in 1989, Leggett says, congressional librarians simply checked that the 35 millimeter print submitted with Lucasfilm’s copyright application was in good shape. It was, so no further action was needed.

For older and more esoteric selections like newsreels, silent films, documentaries, and early technical achievements in filmmaking, Leggett says the library often seeks out a copy from the community of preservationists. Universities, private foundations, and hobbyists that preserve old films might get a call from the Library of Congress if they have a good copy of a National Film Registry selection. In rare cases, the library will barter for the film, using redundant materials on its shelves. Other times, it will make a copy or pay the archivist to make a new 35 millimeter copy for them. The Culpeper facility stores nitrate prints, the original film stock for many early movies, in specialty lockers because the material is highly volatile and flammable.

Silent films can be tricky because studios often released, revised, and then re-released versions of the film. When one is selected, Library of Congress archivists collect as many aspects and versions of the film as they can, which might mean contacting several studios and archivists.

Of particular challenge in 2015 was the induction of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, William Greaves’s quasi-documentary of his 1968 theatrical project staged in Central Park. The film was screened often through the years, as Greaves gained a cult following. It was released on DVD in 2006, but the National Film Preservation Act specified that the library should seek a copy in the original format, which it didn’t have. Leggett said Greaves’s 1968 original cut was “lost,” but the library worked with the late filmmaker's estate to create a new 35 millimeter version that resembled it.

The Audio-Visual Conservation Center itself, buried on a mountainside, has storage space controlled to stay cool and dry. “A film could survive for hundreds of years there,” Leggett says. He admits the audiovisual center wouldn’t survive a nuclear strike—in the event of World War III, the world might lose its best copy of Buster Keaton’s The General—“but it did survive an earthquake with all materials intact.”

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

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