So this happened. The folks who produce the Oxford American Dictionary have declared their word of the year to be “GIF”, which is actually an acronym for “Graphics Interchange Format” and was introduced all the way back in 1987.
Personally, I’m confused by the choice and the reasons listed in the news article do nothing to clear said confusion up:
“GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun,” said Katherine Martin, head of the U.S. dictionaries program at Oxford.
“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.”
It’s gained traction as a verb? What the hell? How the hell do you use it as a verb? I’ve been on this Interweb thing since right around 1987, long before the mainstream caught onto it, and I have never, ever, ever heard anyone use GIF as a verb.
Guess I better check in with the people who put out the dictionary to see if they have any examples of this usage. Turns out they have a blog on which they announced this choice:
GIFverb to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event): he GIFed the highlights of the debate
Seriously? Not only would I laugh my ass off at anyone trying to use that as a sentence, but why the fuck would anyone “GIF” the highlights of a debate in an age of ubiquitous streaming video?
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of video clips that make excellent GIF animations. There’s hours of amusement to be found at sites like Señor Gif which provide you with crucial snippets like the following:
But if someone were to come up to me and ask if I’d seen that video they had “GIFed”, I’d have no choice but to slap some sense into them.
That said, their blog entry goes on to say:
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.
That highlighted part captured my attention so I continued reading to see if they provided any examples of this supposedly new use for GIF files. Here’s one they came up with in a section called “Highlights of the year in GIFing:”
January 2012: 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.
That particular service may be new, but people have been converting stereographs into animated GIFs for years. Some of the earliest postings I’ve seen date back to the late 90’s.
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.”
Again, this isn’t particularly new. You can find plenty of animated GIFs from previous Olympics created both by ordinary people and a few news agencies.
Then there’s this:
February 7, 2012: First post on the GIFtastic tumblr whatshouldwecallme
Um. OK? Not sure why we should give a shit that it was used as the first post on some random tumblr no one’s ever heard of. But what do I know? I can’t even manage to figure out how to use the word as a verb.
Granted, in the great scheme of things, what the folks at the Oxford American Dictionary deem to be the word of the year isn’t particularly important. It just feels like a wasted opportunity given how many other significant not-25-year-old-acronyms are out there that would’ve been a better choice. Then again, when you consider that their second choice was YOLO, hoping for something better than “GIF as a verb” is probably being overly optimistic.