Friday, May 12, 2006

To Gift

A question on "gift" as a verb was posed in one of the comments below. The Ceely establishment owns many, many books on the English language, and should be able to answer anything to at least some degree. Here is what The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edition, R.W.Burchfiled, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) says on the subject:
gift (verb). Despite its antiquity (first recorded in the 16th c.) and its frequent use, esp. Scottish writers, since then, it has fallen out of favour among standard speakers in England, and is best avoided. On the other hand, gifted [as in] 'talented' (a gifted violinist) is standard. (p. 330)

This doesn't exactly answer the question as to where is comes from, but we have not yet acquired the big OED (in several volumes) that specifically discusses origins. My answer does tell us that you probably won't see the use of "gift" as a verb much in America, but may see it in England, mostly in older publications.


Anonymous Damask Rose said...

Thank you for that, Alexandra.

The funny thing is that it is in American English that I most see "gift" used as a verb, and only quite recently. Here in England it doesn't occur much. So I was surprised to learn that it has a much older use as such on this side of the Atlantic!

11:46 AM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

I have seen it too, usually in the past tense. Frankly, I don't remember where, so I don't know if it was in old novels or something else. Interesting how things like this often seem to come from the other side of the pond.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

My impression is that "Gift someone" was big in American ad-speak in the late '50s and early '60s but that the usage has faded somewhat.

10:29 AM  
Blogger chefpierre said...

Oh my Bill, there are all sorts of modern-day evangelicals that "gift" this and "gift" that to one another, promising that following Jesus their way will result in all sorts of prosperity.

11:32 PM  
Blogger BB said...

On the etymology of gift as a verb, our good friend the OED simply has this to say: "from: gift (n)".

In other words, conversion. It also has no pragmatic information regarding restricted usage and quotations from British sources dating from 1608 through to 1879. If there has been no further development or change since the the last quotation, it's quite common for the OED simply to stop a hundred or so years ago and no bother with any more quotations. In other words, that shouldn't be taken to mean that it necessarily fell out of favour in British usage at some stage and has then reemerged.

Personally, I see no problem whatsoever with using gift as a verb. Fits the bill quite nicely, I reckon.

10:34 AM  

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