How do you pronounce “gif” (or “GIF” as it was originally)?
We had a discussion at the day job about this recently with the usual appeals to authority (the authors of the standard wanted it to be pronounced “jif”) and orthography (if the authors had wanted it said that way, they should have spelled it with a ‘j’), but the argument highlighted several interesting points:
- once you release something into the world, you have to let people experience it on their own terms
- pronunciation is a social construct which only matters if you’re not understood
- they really should have spelled gif with a ‘j’
Let It Go
We make things – we all do. We put things out into the world, and want others to experience them, to enjoy what we’ve made.
It’s unreasonable to control how someone enjoys your work.
If someone approaches your work because of the vampires then stays because of the amazing protagonist, slagging off vampires as a medium may alienate some of your readership.
Where “Saab” Rhymes With “Sob”
Different people pronounce the same words differently, and different words the same.
I grew up in Britain. There are a plethora of different accents in Britain, where vowels turn upside down in the space of a few miles it seems* but I was unprepared for a few elements of West Coast American speech when I moved here:
- ‘a’ sometimes sounds like ‘o’ – in British English, the ‘aa’ sound is like that of the first vowel in “army” (excluding any rolling Rs because we’re not pirates**), but I heard a news story where the reader talked about “sob police cars” until I realised that he was saying the extended ‘a’ to rhyme with the ‘o’ in “hot”
- ‘t’ sometimes sounds like ‘d’ – “I whittled some sticks” is a harmless occupation, but the soft ‘t’ which sounds exactly like ‘d’ to my ear makes it sound like you “widdled”, a rather more scatological meaning which I recommend a trip to the doctor for.
Neither of these are wrong, but they can be confusing to an unaccustomed ear.
For these reasons alone I would never write poetry***, but it can be dangerous to write based on assumptions about pronunciation in your audience.
It’s Pronounced ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove’
British English is replete with examples of unobvious pronunciations, such as the place names Leicester (pron. “lester”), Gloucester (pron. “gloster”), or Slaithwaite (pron. “sl-ow-it”****).
These (along with curious American names such as the Willamette in Oregon) are fair enough, because they are locally grown, organic place names which can be explained to the visitor as the opportunity presents itself.
Otherwise, coining a term which requires instructions to pronounce it is generally a mistake because you end up looking increasingly silly as your strenuous objections are ignored by large portions of the population you have reached.
Another example from computing is the data type “char”. Programmers are divided between those who say “ch-ar” (as in “a nice cup of”, or burnt around the edges) and those who say “car” (because the type is short for “character”). Both are justifiable and reasonable, and the argument only gets heated in code reviews because mostly you’re reading it to yourself.
But when your work goes out there and you hear someone pronouncing your MC’s name or their place of birth in an unfamiliar way? Don’t mock it – you have a reader who has made the work their own. Celebrate that.
[*] Henry Higgins’ claim to be able to place someone to the nearest street based on how they spoke was not all that fanciful.
[**] not all of us, anyway.
[***} the more pressing reason being that I am a rotten poet.
[****] this is where I wish I was better at the phonetic alphabet – Slaithwaite has an ‘ow’ in the middle, so I separated the “sl” and “ow” portions of the pronunciation to avoid it being read as “slow”.