We all know the humble GIF. An animated image that people love to throw into any online conversation to express their feelings whether it’s a man blinking his eyes in disbelief or a moving screenshot from an episode of Glee that perfectly sums up their thoughts. Sadly, Stephen Wilhite, one of the inventors of the GIF died last week at the age of 74.
Stephen helped created the GIF (which stands for Graphics Interchange Format) while working at CompuServe in the 1980s. He is also the guy responsible for people saying “it’s actually pronounced ‘jif’ not ‘gif’.” So we have him to thank for that as well.
Speaking to the New York Times in 2013, he said “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G’, pronounced ‘jif’. End of story.” And sure, he invented it, he can call it whatever he likes but… come on now. If the G stands for Graphics that’s not a “soft G” it’s not Jraphics. Let’s give it a couple of months as we honour the dead but then after that let’s all go back to calling them GIFs.
Wilhite revealed that his favourite GIF was the dancing baby, the one that appeared in an episode of Ally McBeal and was one of the first ever memes. And if that whole sentence made you feel old, try not to think about how GIFs aren’t very popular with young people anymore and it’s more of a “Millennial” thing and really try not to think about how “Millennial” doesn’t mean young person anymore.
For a long time when writing articles like this one for The Project’s website, I used to find a way to always shorehorn a gif of what I believed to be a goose running along the water. It’s actually a bewick swan, which is a less fun than a goose, but in honour of Stephen Wilhite and his amazing life and career here is the gif I’ve used the most over the years:
A Swan Running To Pay Its Respects