Friday, June 02, 2006

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"Gift" as a verb

The other day, the SPOGG blog had an item with which I disagree, about the use of "gift" as a verb. "Nonsense," said I when I read it, but since the SPOGG blog doesn't have comments enabled, I have to comment here instead.

The verb "gift" is a perfectly good one. I just stopped in the library to check citations in the OED, and found citations going back to the early 1600s, including ones from Henry Fielding and Henry James (and lots of other blokes who aren't called Henry). And it's nice to have a word that specifically means "to give as a gift"; Spanish has one ("regalar"). "Donate" implies a sort of charitable gift, so it doesn't really work.

But then I looked in my favourite resource, the American Heritage Dictionary. AHD has some wonderful "usage notes", which often make for enlightening and amusing reading. In the entry for "gift" they have this:

Usage note: Gift has a long history of use as a verb meaning "to present as a gift; endow." The practice appears to provide a useful distinction, inasmuch as the verb give can sometimes be ambiguous between "to transfer physical possession" and "to transfer ownership"; and in fact a verb analogous to gift is found in a number of other languages (for example, Italian regalare, "to give as a gift," from regalo, "gift, present"). Unfortunately the verbal use of gift in Modern English is irredeemably tainted (as is its derivative giftable) by its association with the language of advertising and publicity (as in Gift her with this copper warming plate). In an earlier survey the usage was rejected by a large majority of the Usage Panel. Where clarity is required, substitutes such as give as a gift, bestow, or donate are recommended.
In other words, overuse in advertising has made us shun this word. I guess it's right up there with "superstar" and "new and improved".

What a pity. To be able to use "gift" as a verb without raising hackles, well, that would be a gift. Maybe it's not irredeemable; maybe we can redeem it with sufficient proper use. Ya think?

[In a completely unrelated note, I always find it amusing that in German, "das Gift" is "poison" (and the verb is "vergiften").]

2 comments:

scouter573 said...

This is only tangentially related to your posting, but it's in the same vein and I thought you might enjoy it. A discussion of grammatical choice of verbs at --> http://www.defectiveyeti.com/archives/001693.html
I couldn't find an email address, so I'll abuse the comment feature.

jjames3157 said...

Dude, sorry to rain on your parade several years later, but Lynch's style guide, the OED guide to usage, and the american heritage guide to usage all now agree that the use of gift as a verb is bad English. Check out my blog at madwork.wordpress.com for links to their articles (at the bottom of the article 'as to the use of gift' if you're interested.
Tom