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View Full Version : Non-judgemental questions about "Americanism" TO GIFT


Cat Jones
04-12-2009, 04:15 AM
Hello - this really is to fight ignorance rather than criticise in any way. I'm a Brit but more pertinent to my question both, a teacher of English as a foreign language (which pretty much ensures a plethora of grammar & spelling errors in this post) and a trainer of others wanting to become EFL teachers - so I do need to have a fair idea what's going on with the language.

This accompanied a photo on the BBC website this morning "Mr Kennedy, a fan of the water dog, is said to have gifted one to the Obamas".

This isn't the first time I've seen this verb but what does "to gift" mean ? More specifically why would you choose to say "gift" in this case rather than "give" -which, given the article tells me that the dog is "from close family friend, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts", would seem more natural to me.

What is there a nuance I'm missing ? I see "present" would be too official as this is "between friends" rather than "between senator and president", "donate" would suggest an act of charity, but "gift" ?

(I do believe there is a factual answer to this rather than just it's American. I heard the adjective "addicting" in California and was ready to dismiss it until it was explained that "addicting" is free of the negative connotations of "addictive" thus to a certain group English speakers while alcohol and cigarettes are addictive watching Desperate Housewives or chocolate are addicting. Now I'm not saying I'd ever teach this but it's good to know should someone ever ask me about it.)

runcible spoon
04-12-2009, 04:30 AM
I can see two reasons to use 'gifted' over 'given'. First, in some situations, it's nice to specify that something is a gift. To give is general enough that it could refer to something handed over but paid for: "The cashier gave me my bag of groceries" would be different from "the cashier gifted me my bag of groceries". Obviously, that's an awkward turn of phrase, but there is a difference between the two words. Second, in this case, where 'given' wouldn't really cause confusion, using a specific word instead of a general one gives it that newspaper-y feeling, really. It's just a stylistic choice, really, but that's not a bad thing.

Mops
04-12-2009, 04:44 AM
As a user of English as a foreign language I consider 'to gift' useful as it avoids ambiguity between to give in the meanings of 'to give as a gift' and 'to hand over'.

acetylene
04-12-2009, 05:24 AM
Exactly. If he had a bunch of puppies to get rid of, he may give one to his neighbor, give one to his cousin, and give one to Obama.

But if he put a lot of thought into picking out just the right dog, he would gift it to Obama.

Still, it's not something a person would say in casual conversation.

Cat Jones
04-12-2009, 05:53 AM
OK - so "he gifted them a dog" = he gave them a dog as a present or he gave them a present of a dog. That's clear, thank you.

Would you still use "gift" if the context of "it" being a present was implicit ? eg Last year he gifted me a book for my birthday. This sounds clumsy to me but I can see the appeal to non-native speakers who feel "give" is too direct.

Athena
04-12-2009, 06:58 AM
To my American ears, it sounds like reporter-speak to say something was "gifted." I'd never use the term myself. It sounds like some sort of made-up phrase.

sailor
04-12-2009, 07:29 AM
Gifted sounds retarded. What's wrong with "presented"? Because that's what I have always heard and used.

Chief Pedant
04-12-2009, 07:38 AM
The nuance difference is pointed out above; I can give you Herpes but generally would not gift you Herpes. Use of "gift" in the latter instance would be for the purpose of deliberately conveying irony.

Nevertheless use of "gift" instead of "give" as a transitive verb strikes me as stilted. In the context you cite, it does not add clarity, and it's probably just a preference. I did not realize its use is peculiar to Americans; I've always seen the British as a little more hoity toity with their preferences.

Is "judgemental" an alternate spelling for Brits?

psychonaut
04-12-2009, 07:49 AM
The nuance difference is pointed out above; I can give you Herpes but generally would not gift you Herpes.Note to self: Do not sleep with Chief Pedant.

twickster
04-12-2009, 08:04 AM
I understand the "give/gift" distinction being drawn, but the only time I could see a possible use for it would be in a photo caption or suchlike where word count was an issue. Otherwise, I'd say "made a gift of the dog" or "gave the dog as a gift." "Gift" as a verb strikes me as a damned uneuphonious neologism.

hibernicus
04-12-2009, 08:23 AM
The verb "to gift" is used, not just in America, in a context where the legal or tax implications of the transfer are considered relevant. This would not apply in the case of the Obamas' dog, however.

Wendell Wagner
04-12-2009, 09:10 AM
Is this actually an Americanism? I'm not sure if I've ever heard anyone say it. I've mostly seen it on the SDMB. It could be that it's only common among people younger than me, or it could be that it's restricted to some particular social set.

Northern Piper
04-12-2009, 09:15 AM
I"m familiar with it as a legalism, where it is important to be precise in the words used. However, when I see it in common usage, it grates on me.

Varrius
04-12-2009, 09:45 AM
The only time I'm familiar with the use as a verb would be to re-gift something. (Not condoning the practice, that would be for another thread.)

Polycarp
04-12-2009, 10:08 AM
OK - so "he gifted them a dog" = he gave them a dog as a present or he gave them a present of a dog. That's clear, thank you.

Would you still use "gift" if the context of "it" being a present was implicit ? eg Last year he gifted me a book for my birthday. This sounds clumsy to me but I can see the appeal to non-native speakers who feel "give" is too direct.

As ws noted, it carries the connotations of "to give as a completely free gift without strings attached, not as a consideration" and "to give after careful choice. It's a very uncommon word in colloquial speech, used in writing or in repertorial narrative where it's important to draw the nuance the connotation suggests.

I might give you a quarter dollar to feed the parking meter when you find yourself without change. But I would gift you with the mirror-finish proof quarter dollar struck on your birth year, in a presentation case, that I ordered especially from samclem to be the perfect gift for you.

Reply
04-12-2009, 11:05 AM
I heard the adjective "addicting" in California and was ready to dismiss it until it was explained that "addicting" is free of the negative connotations of "addictive" thus to a certain group English speakers while alcohol and cigarettes are addictive watching Desperate Housewives or chocolate are addicting.

Where'd you hear that? Sounds like a lame excuse someone made up after the fact.

Not that it'd make Californianisms any less addicting. You Brits keep your prim and proper English; we'll just keep evolving ours :D

ETA: IMO "addicting" is free of negative connotations only because it reached critical mass, not because of a subtle-but-important difference in meaning. Language of the people, nya!

Elendil's Heir
04-12-2009, 11:16 AM
American here, and I hate the phrase. It sounds like something coined by gift shops and retail stores. Ugh. Fortunately, I don't hear it too often.

Ximenean
04-12-2009, 11:33 AM
Perhaps the OP is referring to the way some English speakers brazenly use nouns as verbs. "Gifted", "architected", "mothballed", "leveraged"... there are countless examples.

And perhaps American English speakers are more comfortable with this practice of converting nouns to verbs than British English speakers? It certainly seems like a lot of them originate in American business speak.

Polycarp
04-12-2009, 11:48 AM
"Verbing weirds language." - Calvin

friedo
04-12-2009, 11:48 AM
"Gift" is not a verb, and anybody who uses it as such is officially off my Christmas list.

:mad:

runcible spoon
04-12-2009, 11:59 AM
Perhaps the OP is referring to the way some English speakers brazenly use nouns as verbs. "Gifted", "architected", "mothballed", "leveraged"... there are countless examples.

And perhaps American English speakers are more comfortable with this practice of converting nouns to verbs than British English speakers? It certainly seems like a lot of them originate in American business speak.

Heh - those all sound perfectly natural to me except 'architecting', and I majored in architecture. To be fair, 'leveraged' to me is a very specific economic term, and I've only ever heard 'mothballed' in the context of city-builder games (used to indicate a temporary shutdown of a building or industry). And, as noted, gifted is pretty much strictly written.

doreen
04-12-2009, 12:17 PM
The only time I'm familiar with the use as a verb would be to re-gift something. (Not condoning the practice, that would be for another thread.)

I suspect that this is exactly where the usage came from- after all, if I can re-gift that ugly picture frame to my sister-in-law, someone must have gifted it to me. I wonder when we'll start seeing "purpose" as a verb.

dracoi
04-12-2009, 01:01 PM
Newspaper headlines and captions are notorious for either slightly abusing words or using words that you might not always use in real conversations. "Gifted" is much shorter than "gave as a gift" and yet carries the full meaning to the reader. When everything you write has to fit within a certain number of column-inches, you take shortcuts where you can.

I do sometimes use "gifted" in conversation, but I'm at least partly influenced by all the tax law I read.

Wendell Wagner
04-12-2009, 01:08 PM
There's nothing particularly American about turning nouns into verbs. It occurs in British English just as much.

Ximenean
04-12-2009, 01:16 PM
I did not intend that as a criticism of American English. You might say that American English speakers are quicker to adopt new forms than British English speakers. It certainly does happen in British English, but I'm not sure that it happens "just as much". I think we import a lot of these new verbal forms from America. The likes of "leveraged" and "architected" are American in origin.

GameHat
04-12-2009, 01:32 PM
I'm pretty sure I remember Strunk&White (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strunk_and_white) being against the usage of gift as a verb.

Since I think it's probably the best English "style" guide I would consider "gifted" (as a verb) to be sloppy.

I can't find my battered copy to verify, I should probably get a new one. Great book, if only for the most genius example of why writing style matters:

"Soulwise, these are trying times."

The original quote is left as an exercise for the reader :D

Wendell Wagner
04-12-2009, 01:44 PM
I didn't take it as a criticism of American English. I don't know of any evidence that American English is more accepting of turning nouns into verbs than British English is.

Wendell Wagner
04-12-2009, 01:46 PM
There are those who think that Strunk and White is a terrible style guide:

http://chronicle.com/free/v55/i32/32b01501.htm

GameHat
04-12-2009, 03:33 PM
There are those who think that Strunk and White is a terrible style guide:

http://chronicle.com/free/v55/i32/32b01501.htm

That criticism seems more to be complaining that it's a terrible grammar guide. I wouldn't say it's terrible, just not very good for grammar.

The context in when Strunk first would have written the thing matters - he was writing for undergrads in the first half of the 20th century. Back then one could probably assume that any college undergrad had had the rules of english grammar hammered hard into her in her K-12 education. So a "grammar" book would probably not be needed, a style guide would.

Things have changed - I didn't get a proper formalized grammar lesson until I was in 11th grade. Teaching styles have changed. The only grammar I got up until then was an admonition when I had seriously broken a grammar rule, and I sort of pieced together what little I know of grammar from that and a lot of reading.

So a criticism of the book as a poor grammar guide is entirely valid but it misses the main goal of the book, which is as a style guide.

But now I'm way off the OP, so I'll drop it. I can understand criticism of Elements, but I still think it's a valuable read.

Cat Jones
04-12-2009, 04:19 PM
Is "judgemental" an alternate spelling for Brits? :smack: No it's the sort of careless error I predicted after saying I was an EFL teacher, see line 2 of my OP

Many thanks to all who have replied - in Europe we can fall into a trap of hearing "media" or "business" English from American sources and assume that they are more widespread or welcomed than they actually are and it's good for me to get the fuller picture. The legal aspect is also very useful.

Perhaps the OP is referring to the way some English speakers brazenly use nouns as verbs. "Gifted", "architected", "mothballed", "leveraged"... there are countless examples. Actually no Ximenean, I just wanted to know when a person would say "gift" rather than "give" ;) Mind you I am fascinated as to why we're busy verbing some nouns yet abandon other ones as old fashioned eg I lunched with John versus I had lunch with John

I'm glad to see others suggest it may be an erroneous back-formation from re-gift as the thought had occurred to me.

Oh and Reply? For addicting I heard the word used on radio and questioned it, my female twenty-something bay area Californian cousin gave the explanation on the spot. I have had her idea independently confirmed by another female twenty-something Californian from LA who was in Europe training to be a teacher. Now to be fair I've also had twenty-something Americans from elsewhere in the States who share your opinion so the jury's still out.

Scarlett67
04-12-2009, 04:20 PM
I"Gift" as a verb strikes me as a damned uneuphonious neologism.

MW11 begs to disagree with you, at least about the neologism part:

Main Entry: 2gift
Function: transitive verb
Date: circa 1550

hibernicus
04-12-2009, 05:20 PM
Perhaps the OP is referring to the way some English speakers brazenly use nouns as verbs. "Gifted", "architected", "mothballed", "leveraged"... there are countless examples.

And perhaps American English speakers are more comfortable with this practice of converting nouns to verbs than British English speakers? It certainly seems like a lot of them originate in American business speak.

All English speakers brazenly use nouns as verbs, every day, without batting an eyelid. Paint a room, heat your dinner, butter some bread, book a ticket, paper over the cracks, skin an animal, knife someone in the heart, table a motion, sum the series, influence a decision, etc., etc., etc.

Polycarp
04-12-2009, 05:48 PM
MW11 begs to disagree with you, at least about the neologism part:

Those demned Tewdwrs! Alway tampering with Ye Olde English Language. forsooth! :p

Little Nemo
04-12-2009, 08:29 PM
Gifted sounds retarded. What's wrong with "presented"? Because that's what I have always heard and used.It's a seperate meaning. When Sean Penn was presented with the Best Actor Oscar, it wasn't being gifted to him by Michael Douglas.