Posted by Dirck on 12 December, 2011
At the Regular Job, I have occasional uncharitable thoughts towards my co-workers. This is, I think, a common condition in the modern workplace, and as I don’t nurture these thoughts at any length, nothing come of it. However, there is an item of activity that is starting to unsettle me greatly, as small and annoying as a grain of sand in the shoe. The fact that it comes in what should be a season of charity and forgivness makes it all the more vexing, as it is also a behaviour which is motivated by the season.
The mis-use of the word “gift”. It’s driving me right up the wall. You see, there is a seasonal promotional item being handed out to customers, and a co-worker keeps saying with clocklike regularity, “You can keep it, or gift it to a friend.”
A small thing, yes? A mere nothing. Certainly nothing that someone who accepts the role of the Oxford English Dictionary as a descriptive rather than proscriptive organ should kick against. And yet I almost pulled my hair just typing the quotation. I may find “blog” slightly distasteful, but I come close to physical pain when faced with the use of “gift” as a verb. I suspect part of the reason is that there are no advantages in using it rather than “give”. Only two letters different, and it’s even phonetically more work, with the voiced rather than unvoiced friccative and the following plosive.
One certainly can’t use it as a straight substitution, either. “Giving the gift of education” becomes a Porky Pig joke. “Give me the idol and I’ll give you the whip” agitates humour if transposed. “Give me a break!” becomes even more self indulgent.
I think it agitates me so because I view it as a symptom of a growing inability in the modern English speaker to access our shared colossal (or shall I say “cyclopean?” “Brobdingnagian”? “Capacious?” ) vocabulary. Rather than scrape about through the hundreds of thousands of words we’ve invented or pillaged from abroad in search of the mot juste, the impulse appears to be to just press common verbs and nouns into service as the other part of speech where possible. That this is viewed as a clever way to conduct communication just vexes me all the more.
I cannot be placated by an observation that it’s hardly a new phenomenon, nor that it’s an accepted English practice. I admit that mine is an irrational anger, and it will not answer to reason. I vent thus because flinging a stapler might bring forth a reprimand and because not venting at all would see me turn a funny colour and pitch to the floor. I’m sure the etymology doesn’t bear out the sensation, but I comprehend entirely the use of “gift” in German. It’s a noun in that language, too. It means “poison.”