GIF started out as a humble acronym 25 years ago, entered common parlance as the format used for web graphics and now achieves fame as a verb by becoming Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year 2012.
This annual honor goes to a word that in some way embodies the ethos of the year and is selected by a panel of judges.The choice for 2102 is the verb GIF, meaning to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event) as in he GIFed the highlights of the debate.
Writing on the Oxford University Press blog, Katherine Martin, one of the OUP lexicographers on the judging panel reflects:
The GIF, a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, looping animations, turned 25 this year, but like so many other relics of the 80s, it has never been trendier. GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun. The GIF has evolved from a medium for pop-cultural memes into a tool with serious applications including research and journalism, and its lexical identity is transforming to keep pace.
GIF, standing for graphic interchange format, was coined as a noun in 1987 and while it is more usually pronounced with a hard g (as in graphic), the programmers who developed the format preferred the use of a soft g (as in giant). They supposedly quipped “choosy developers choose GIF” - a reference to the commercial tagline of the peanut butter brand Jiff.
GIF as a noun has always been an all-capital letter noun. Becoming a verb has caused problems concerning the use of capital and lower case letters. The common form is to keep the noun in caps and add the verbal endings in lower case - as in GIFed,GIFing), However, an all lower-case spelling with the f duplicated (giffed, giffing) is also being used.
Looking at the highlights of 2012 for the verb, the OUP blog records the following:
January: The New York Public Library launches the Stereogranimator, a tool enabling users to make GIFs of vintage stereographs in the library's collection to create an illusion of the 3D experience of viewing through a stereoscope.
15 June 2012: 25th anniversary of the GIF.
July 2012: 20th anniversary of first GIF (and first photograph) ever posted to the World Wide Web.
August 2012: The GIF vaults to prominence as a tool in covering Olympic events, marshaled into use both for serious analysis and humorous effect. Blogging for the New York Times, Jenna Wortham called GIFs "the perfect medium for the Olympics."
October 2012: Tumblr and the Guardian team up to live-GIF the presidential debates.