Yesterday I could not have told you who Stephen Wilhite was. Nor is it likely I will be able to a few days from now. But he was the man who, in the late 1980s, created/invented/originated the animated GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), familiar to anyone who has ever been on the internet or used social media. And back in those days when internet speeds were achingly slow, it quickly became hugely popular.
In 2013 Wilhite received the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for his creation of the GIF, and in lieu of an acceptance speech, a GIF was played for the audience. It read: “It’s pronounced ‘JIF’ not ‘GIF.’”
That same year, in an interview with the New York Times, he identified the 1996 “dancing baby” GIF as one of his favorites. As for the pronunciation of GIF: “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” he said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.” He never stopped being irritated by the widely used but incorrect pronunciation. And who should have the last word if not the originator?
As anyone knows, GIFs have become ubiquitous. So much so that there are even numerous annual best GIF awards.
Stephen Wilhite died last week at the age of 74, a victim of Covid.
Banner image: My all-time favorite GIF, untitled, by SpecialOpsDarkAngel