Gift

(When used as a verb) to transform a possession into a present by giving it to someone.

This holiday season Sears’s slogan is «how to gift

I know more than a couple people who share a pet peeve: the use of the word gift as a verb. They complain with good justification that it is common to turn a noun into a verb in place of choosing words with enough care that no made-up word would be necessary. Normally I’d be in agreement, but in the case of gift I’ve defended the usage.

The difference in usage is whether the emphasis is on the gift or the recipient. Whether one gives or gifts a watch to a friend, the friend gets the watch. But if the watch is gifted, we know that it was a present, not a loan or given over for repair. Just because I gave my friend the watch so that he could look at it up close, doesn’t mean it was a gift.

Further, the important part of gift is the object rather than the recipient. If I say that I have given to the Red Cross, you don’t know whether I donated money, blood, or something else. Conversely I can gift a nice pen because I’m no longer using it, without specifying who the recipient is.

But here is where I take issue with the way Sears (and a couple of other stores this year) use the word gift. When you gift something, it is transformed from an ordinary possession into something else: a gift. If you buy something expressly to be a present for someone, it’s already a gift the moment it comes into your possession. At that point you can certainly give your gift to someone, but it has already been turned into a gift.

Unless Sears means that their lifetime-warranty Craftsman tools are good heirlooms and encouraging us to give them to our friends in lieu of buying presents from a store this holiday season, Sears is not «how to gift.»

Comments

I have a minor quibble with your implication that the use of "gift" as a verb is new. The OED shows this usage as dating back to the early 1600's. I do like the clarity of your distinction between "give" and "gift."

Dad

Sorry. I didn't mean to imply that the usage was new. I suspect that many of the nouns people complain have been verbized are also not new. Further, even the ones that are «new» date back forty to eighty years. I agree that adding verb suffixes to nouns is usually lazy but not at all that every word that's happened to has been a bad thing. We otherwise wouldn't have terms like railroading which add metaphorical color to our language.