Is it also better to 'gift' than to receive?
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It's better to give than to receive, but is it even better to gift?
The noun "gift" is a popular word, synonymous with "present." But this holiday season, it's cropping up increasingly as an encouraging verb -- as in, to give something to somebody.
Users of Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iTunes online store can "gift" songs and albums and videos to one another. Mondera, an online jewelry retailer, pushes customers to "go ahead, gift her" a diamond. Epicurious.com, a gourmet online food guide published by Conde Nast, features an entire section labeled "Thanksgifting." Gossip Web site TMZ.com reported actress Angelina Jolie "was gifted" a diaper bag after the birth of her daughter.
Despite its seeming acceptance, the verbification of "gift" has sparked a lively debate in some quarters, from grammarians to bloggers. "Using gift as a verb is a sign of stupidity, laziness, and verbal sloppiness," wrote the host of the Web log feh-muh-nist. "We frown on this usage," agreed Pam Nelson, a journalist with the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., on her blog Triangle Grammar Guide. (The Wall Street Journal also prefers to give rather than to gift.)
Even so, there's a small contingent of supporters -- and they've got some history on their side. "The verb 'gift' is a perfectly good one," declares Barry Leiba in his blog, Staring at Empty Pages. "To be able to use 'gift' as a verb without raising hackles, well, that would be a gift."
As Mr. Leiba notes, the use of "gift" as a verb isn't new. Most dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, include a definition of the term as a transitive verb. "And," he says, "it's nice to have a word that specifically means 'to give as a gift.'"
What's more, the mutation of noun-to-verb is fairly common, according to Geoff Nunberg, chairman of the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel, which regularly surveys writers for their opinions on such issues. Milk a cow. Water the grass. Fax a document. Some experts estimate that as many as one in five verbs began as nouns, Mr. Nunberg says. But that's not to say that he -- or his colleagues on the usage panel -- approve of the use of "gift" as a verb. "Nobody ever likes this one," says Mr. Nunberg, who feels it is tainted by commercialism and its overuse in gossip columns and press releases.
Why the recent surge in "gifting"? Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, blames celebrity magazines commenting on the red-carpet freebies that stars receive. "Julia Roberts was gifted with this fabulous item," she mocks. "They just want to sound like they're doing something extra fancy."
Another theory is that it derives from the world of accounting, as in writing something off as a "gift." "Gifting" is also the inevitable precursor to "regifting" which became part of the vernacular after an episode of "Seinfeld" that aired in January 1995.
The gift-as-a-verb fad got a big boost last year with the launch of iTunes6. At the press conference in October 2005, Chief Executive Steve Jobs stood in front of a massive screen introducing the new "gifting" feature that allows iTunes users to buy a song or file and give it to another user.
Still, there are those who are determined to resist what they see as the subtle tawdriness of "gifting" -- especially around the holidays. On the Web site for the Vocabula Review, a monthly journal about the English language, one commentator wrote, "How would it sound if said users of 'gift' as a verb were to present this immortal phrase for our approval: 'For God so loved the world that he GIFTED us his only begotten Son'."
First Published November 20, 2006 12:00 am