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J.K. Keller’s “iPhone Oil Painting” GIF (Image courtesy the artist)

If you needed another clue that the Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, the short, looping digital animation file, has become totally ubiquitous, the Oxford Dictionary has selected the term as its word of the year.

This isn’t just any GIF, however. The word they picked is actually GIF the verb — I GIF, you GIF, we all GIF! The usage is a little foreign to me, even as an internet veteran, but maybe the reason for the choice is that this is the year that has seen the GIF get applied to anything and everything, turning the world into a series of repetitive frames.

Far beyond its use in the internet art community, the GIF has memorably morphed the Olympics and the US presidential election, among other things firmly embedded in the mainstream. The gestures of political candidates loop endlessly; Gabby Douglas does perfect splits forever. Buzzfeed seems to have done much to popularize the format of GIF posts, while Tumblr provided a home for millions of wayward GIFs. 2012 marked the point at which the file format became a household name because it was repurposed as a common aesthetic tool.

Gabby Douglas GIF (Image courtesy Buzzfeed)

Kind of like how artists and counter-culture creatives are crying wolf over Rihanna’s “seapunk” “Diamonds” performance on last weekend’s Saturday Night Live, GIFs are an aesthetic that have emerged from the periphery into the center of visual culture. But I don’t think anyone can really be upset about it — It’s kind of hard to claim ownership over the use of medium of expression. Eternally rotating logos, as seen in the work of net artists and now rap music videos, aren’t exactly patented after all.

Rihanna’s “Diamonds” on SNL (Image via Tumblr)

That GIFs are just coming into the mainstream despite how awesome they have always been is pretty understandable, though. This is coming from the same population that thinks stormy weather can interfere with cloud computing.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

One reply on “GIF Is Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year, Duh”

  1. CompuServe animated GIFs were even more prevalent back in the 90s when nearly every website had an “under construction” animated GIF and many other flashing graphics even more annoying. The animated GIF was often annoying and distracting!

    Today’s renaissance in animated GIFs is based on the use of video frames as the source content. As video is not dependent upon rendering by someone with artistic ability to animate a GIF that is compelling they are not so annoying today.

    Basically, the animated GIF is a flip book in a browser. Another advantage is that GIFs are the easiest way to get a short video clip into a browser. Its nice to see old tools rediscovered and adapted.

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