Correctly pronouncing that file extension can up your coolness factor
Most of the time the passing of electronic files back and forth in an office environment is a mute and satisfying enterprise; nobody speaks and the files flit blithely off to where they’re sent. But occasionally something goes wrong; the file doesn’t make it to its destination, say, or something about it isn’t right when it does. All of sudden you have to talk about it, using your actual voice and real words. You find yourself apologizing for – or maybe demanding an explanation for – a non-animating animated .gif, a washed out .png, or a non-looping .swf. But when you do, will you be pronouncing it correctly? Or will you – as I did – wander around mispronouncing some file extensions the wrong way for years, all the while thinking you’re coming across as a professional, when really you’re the audio equivalent of the well-dressed woman with toilet paper stuck to her shoe?
GIF: Jif?! You’ve got to be kidding me.
It’s true. I hard-g’d the thing for years, but it isn’t gif-like-gift at all, it’s jif-like-gin or geez-that’s-a -surpise. But don’t take it from me, take it from the developers of the format, who surely should know. This is from documentation for version 8.33 of Compushow, a graphics display program developed by CompuServe:
The GIF (Graphics Interchange Format), pronounced “JIF”, was designed by CompuServe and the official specification released in June of 1987.
If you still don’t believe me – and I don’t blame you if you don’t – visit Steve Olsen’s The Gif Pronunciation Page, which has been faithfully serving a list of very persuasive arguments in support of “JIF” since 1988. That’s right: 1988! The whole “gif/jif” debate is probably the longest standing and most passionate of all file extension pronunciation debates, and it still gets people all riled up.
People like me, for instance. Because although I’d like to honour the developer’s chosen pronunciation, I’ve discovered that I can’t. I tried to say it, but alarm bells rang in my head and my tongue became paralyzed. Maybe pronouncing it “gif” for 20 years has done irreversible damage. Or maybe I still think “jif” sounds too much like a brand of peanut butter. Either way, no matter what’s right or wrong in this case, I’m afraid I’m going with “gif.”
PNG: It’s PING, not pee-en-gee.
The developers of the .png format, in their format specification documentation, declare fitfully but clearly:
“PNG” is always spelled “PNG” (or “Portable Network Graphics”) and always pronounced “ping” in English, not “pinj” or “pee en gee” or any other multi-syllabic disaster. (For non-English speakers, the three-letter pronunciation is fine, however.)
Steve Olsen mentions this one on his Gif Pronunciation Page too, which is generous of him even if it does make him seem a bit of a rule monger.
I’m pleased to say that I got this one right, having always pronounced it “ping,” no matter how many eyebrows were raised around the office when I did so. Unfortunately, I don’t employ this format so often that I can shout “ping” with the gusto it deserves anytime soon. But when the time arrives, I will be ready.
SWF and FLA: Adobe’s little oddballs
My line of work includes doing a bit of animation now and then, and I usually do this in a program of Adobe’s called Flash. Flash files that include all the source materials have the extension .fla; the compiled versions of these files have the extension .swf.
Now me, I’ve always called them “flah” and “swiff” files respectively, as in “Do you need the flah or the swiff, esteemed co-worker?” (For some reason these terms don’t raise eyebrows around the office the way “ping” can, but this may simply be because my co-workers were just tired and not into playing word games that day.) So was I right?
Yes. “Swiff” for .swf is correct, according to the first sentence in the SWF File Format Specification documentation. that states:
The SWF file format (pronounced “swiff”) delivers vector graphics, text, video, and sound over the Internet and is supported by Adobe Flash Player software.
But what about “flah” for .fla? I couldn’t find anything as reliable as a statement out of a Format Spec Doc to help figure this one out. Nowhere could I find a written guide to indicate how to pronounce this particular file extenstion. To make matters worse there are those, like Lead Flash Developer Mark Grossnickle, who insist – based on nothing but a gut feeling, so far as I can tell – that “FLA is pronounced ‘EF-EL-AYE’ (NOT Flauh!!!)”
Finally I stumbled onto an Adobe expert – Flash Engineering Manager Jeff Alquist, who says “flah” out loud about fifty times in his nifty Adobe TV presentation “XML Based FLA: The New Flash File Format.” Thank you, Mr. Alquist, for making it absolutely clear, in myriad contexts, that .fla is pronounced “flah.” And sorry Mr. Grossnickle, but this time it’s you with toilet-paper-shoe.
O yeah, and FLV
Might as well address one more common Flash file format while we’re at it, and that would be .flv, which is used for Flash video files. You might think, given that .swf is “swiff” and .fla is “flah,” that .flv would naturally become “fliv” or maybe the more whimsical “fluv”… But no. I was unable to find any reference to support any pronunciations other than “eff-el-vee.” Curiously, I’ve never had cause to say this one aloud, although I have heard my co-workers use it and am happy to report that, whether by gut instinct or happy accident, they always get it right.
And all the other file extensions
Of course, that’s only five out of about a billion file extensions, and your problem might not be with these particular ones.
Here on SearchServerVirtualization.com they offer a list of tech terms with audio files so you can hear for yourself how to pronounce them. The list is a bit outdated (didn’t have SWF or FLA or FLV, for instance) and it includes more than just file extensions but it’s worth a quick review.
So will this really up your coolness factor?
Well, much depends on the milieu in which you work, and the passion you bring to the challenge of getting-things-right in general. To me, anyone who takes the time to figure out right from wrong is cool. So yeah, this will up your coolness factor, for sure.
So just to re-cap – here’s the way to say “GIF, PNG, SWF,FLA,FLV” like a pro:
(drum roll; clearing of throat)