Saturday, November 29, 2014

Give vs. gift: is the battle lost?

When I saw this sign on Madison Avenue in midtown Manhattan, I was mightily discouraged. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I'm a bit of a usage stickler; not too much of one, I hope, but still determined to hold the barricades on some (and I'll fight that one to the death). Not too long ago, I posted this, decrying the use of the noun "gift" as a substitute for the verb "give." My rationale was, this does nothing to enrich the language, since there's already a perfectly good word for it, and it doesn't simplify things, as "I gifted" is actually longer than "I gave." Also, "gifted" as the past tense of "to gift" could be confused with "gifted" as an adjective meaning what all the children in Lake Wobegon are.

Since then, in part because of a discussion on Facebook, I've come to realize that "to gift" is a back formation of a novel verb, first reported from 1995, to re-gift, or sometimes un-hyphenated "regift." This means "to give (a previously received gift) to someone else." Here I'll confess, "re-gift" has an ironic zing that "re-give" lacks. I can see how this led to the original giving of the gift becoming "gifting." Does this bother me? Yeah, sorta. Still, substituting "gift" for "give" to describe the giving of a gift doesn't seem that big a deal. The confusion of the past tense "gifted" with the adjective seems curable by context.
It seems my neighborhood Kiehl's store is treading the margin. The sign leads me to believe they are using "gifting" here to mean "gift-wrapping." That could actually be a useful usage. "May I gift that for you?" has an advantage of economy over "May I gift-wrap...?"

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