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.»

2 Replies to “Gift”

  1. long time usage

    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.”


    1. Sor­ry. I did­n’t mean to imply

      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.