The Season Of Gifting: The Rise Of 'Gift' As A Verb
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's the season of cozy sweaters, festive gladness, winter cliches and giving.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Or, Audie, I would venture to say it's the season of gifting.
CORNISH: OK. Here is our producer Selena Simmons-Duffin to explain gifting.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah. So this is when people take the word gift, instead of saying I'm going to give you a gift, I say I'm going to gift you a lamp. And this is something that writer Christine Friar in New York started noticing this year. And it was bugging her because it just seemed a little, like, precious. But then there was another thing.
CHRISTINE FRIAR: It was always a company trying to sound casual and fun about getting you to purchase things.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: OK. So I'm just looking on Twitter right now. Day 4 of 12 gifting ideas or just in time for holiday gifting, the wristlet in navy.
CORNISH: Yeah, kind of hip corporate advertising.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, like we talk like you, internet speak. So this bugged Christine Friar enough that she ended up writing about it for The Awl. And she reached out to a linguist, Arika Okrent, who says gift as a verb actually goes way back.
ARIKA OKRENT: At least since the 1500s you can go back and find examples of an earl gifting a church go to the town council house. So gift has been around as a verb for a long time, but there is something about it that seems new. Why does it feel new? And that might be a change in the types of people that are using it or the domains of use.
CORNISH: All right. Selena, what does that mean, domains of use?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So she's saying basically in the way past it used to be, oh, God has gifted him with knowledge. And then the '70s, she said, there starts to be a shift where it's being used in, like, legal language, in estate planning and that kind of thing. You gift something to your wife when you pass away. And she also says it's used to like - corporate gifting is another way that it's used.
OKRENT: Now it's shifted to just giving gifts, giving presents. And that feels new, that casual usage. And I think it sort of comes after the "Seinfeld" regifter idea.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEINFELD")
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Elaine Benes) I think this is the same one I gave him. He recycled this gift.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Elaine Benes) He's a regifter.
CORNISH: So is this a thing where, like, language changes and then the grammar police kind of go bonkers? I mean, how worried are we...
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, that's basically it. Every time that this shift kind of happens, people freak out. And Arika Okrent, the linguist, pointed out that in the '20s people were really upset about contact. You don't contact someone. You make contact. It's not a verb. It's a noun.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: And now obviously we use that all the time. And so she says gift as a verb is at a different point of the life cycle of this kind of change.
CORNISH: In fact, we're always saying contact us here.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, contact us at NPR.
CORNISH: So I feel fine about this kind of thing. Are you convinced?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: I still think it's a little hokey. I'm going to forego gifting this year. I'm going to stick with giving into the future.
CORNISH: Well, Selena Simmons-Duffin, thank you for gifting us with your presence.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah. Good. Yeah.
CORNISH: You sure? No? OK. Selena Simmons-Duffin is a producer here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.