History is full of great rivalries: Capulets vs Montagues, the T-Birds vs the Scorpions, and people who pronounce GIF (or Graphics Interchange Format) with a soft g sound (“jiff”) vs people who pronounce it with a hard g sound (“giff”). Given the nebulous nature of the argument both sides have staked claim to the truth. Soft g sound adherents cling to the creator of the GIF declaring it the correct pronunciation, while hard G sound boosters persist by pointing out that their pronunciation just sounds better and is far more popular. Now a third party has entered the fray to make their opinions heard.
The J.M. Smucker Company, manufacturers of Jif peanut butter, have teamed up with popular GIF database Giphy to produce limited edition peanut butter jars. Instead of the classic label that read “Jif: Creamy peanut butter,” these special jars read “Gif: Animated looping images.” A special badge on the side of each jar reads either “SOFT g” or “HARD g” depending on whether it’s accompanying the classic Jif label or the unique GIF label. It appears that Jif peanut butter has taken a hard stand in this year’s long debate and come out on the side of hard G partisans.
How this affects the pronunciation war
In a press release Rebecca Scheidler, the VP of marketing for Jif, made clear that her company intended to stake their sole claim on the soft g pronunciation. “We’re teaming up with Giphy to put a lid on this decade-long debate and provide there is only one Jif.” Although it’s a bold play, it’s unlikely to change many minds. The debate around pronunciation has much more to do with the peculiarities of the way language develops and changes than it does branding, and while Giphy is certainly a powerhouse in the GIF market, there is no official owner of GIFs as a medium. The closest we have to that is the man who invented them, but most people are willing to disregard his preferred pronunciation. Similarly, Jif peanut butter is probably not going to sway many soft g radicals away from their cause.
Regardless, the special jars have been a hit. The original run, which was available for purchase on Amazon, sold out quickly. According to GeekWire, a second run of 500 jars was added, but those were gone in minutes.
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