Stephen Wilhite, Creator of the GIF, Dies

Wilhite, who was 74, had definite opinions about how the word should be pronounced.

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Steve Wilhite

Stephen Wilhite and his wife, Kathaleen, at the 17th Annual Webby Awards in 2013 in New York.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Webby Awards

Stephen Wilhite, the lead engineer on the team that created the GIF, died March 14, according to multiple media reports. He was 74. 

Wilhite and his colleagues at CompuServe launched the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) in June 1987. Since the advent of the internet and social media, the brief video clips have become a ubiquitous means to express a reaction or emotion in lieu of words.

Wilhite was also chief architect at America Online and received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.  

"He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer," his wife, Kathaleen, told The Verge. She told the publication he died from COVID-19. 

Despite an illustrious career, his online obituary notes that Wilhite "remained a very humble, kind, and good man."

While the Oxford English Dictionary accepts two pronunciations of the word GIF -- with a soft G (as in "George") or a hard G (as in "guppy") -- Wilhite told The New York Times in 2013 that this is "wrong."

"It is a soft 'G,' pronounced 'jif.'" he said. "End of story."