A pretty awesome thing happened last night/this morning: we learned that "gif" was intended to be pronounced "jif." But that's only the beginning. The backlash on Twitter was phenomenal (just search "gif," you'll find it), with people from all over the world vehemently arguing that the correct pronunciation is in fact "gif" with a hard G. Some cited common sense and common language structures, while others turned to what the acronym stands for, Graphics Interchange Format—hard G in "Graphics" means hard G in "gif."
The exciting part is not necessarily the opinions or reactions but rather the underlying motivations for these expressed opinions. We're at a time when the residues of postmodernism and poststructuralism are firmly embedded into our cultural reality. From a linguistic perspective, Wimsatt and Beardsley ushered in a new way of thinking about literary criticism when they announced the intentional fallacy, which drastically changed the ways people thought about literature and art. They argued that the author's intention, or perceived intention, is both unknowable and completely irrelevant to textual critique. Even if an author can tell his/her readers, "this is my intention, this is what my text means," it is irrelevant to the overall value of that text. All that matters is the reader's individual interpretation.
I distinctly remember having an almost visceral reaction to this idea when I first encountered it about 10 years ago. How could the author's intention not matter? Isn't that the basis of what it actually means? My opinion is just that; what are the facts? But of course, the beauty of literary arts is that facts don't matter all that much, or at least factual systems are pliable and adaptable.
Following Wimsatt and Beardsely's lead, Michel Foucault examined the author function as a power structure built into the text itself. And finally Roland Barthes killed off any notion of intention or authority when he declared the death of the author. Once an author creates a text and puts it out into the world, s/he is effectively dead, or at least his/her function as an authority figure over the text is over, leaving only a free-floating object of interpretation without inherent meaning, value, purpose, etc. until someone interacts with it.
Fred Jameson, when he articulated the mechanics of postmodernism, later called this notion the "textualization of the world." When modernism moved into its "post" iteration, the world began to be viewed as a series of texts, objects with no inherent meaning, reliant on the interpretation of those who experience it.
Given the amount of outspoken opinions on the gif question, it seems as though these ideas are becoming common knowledge, even if people can't necessarily trace them back to their roots. Our reality is a system of signs in which the semiotic dimension of language plays itself out. Language is a mostly arbitrary system, composed of social agreements between its users.
So a gif is a gif.