When Did “Gift” Become a Verb (and Why Is “Wants” a Noun?)
- On August 4, 2015
I can gift my air miles to a friend and earn even more for myself. If I go to a certain museum gala later this month, I’ll be gifted with a light linen beach cover-up. And come February, retailers everywhere will ask me what I want to gift my Valentine.
How the heck did gift turn into a verb and unseat the good old act of giving? I don’t really know, but I do know that gift-the-verb doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and it smacks of marketing jargon.
See for yourself how you can replace gift with give in the following real-life examples—in the first two, you can make a straight swap—and in doing so, sound natural, smart, and human, which is a good thing because people like to do business with companies that sound human (and smart).
• Earn up to 27,500 bonus miles when you buy American Airlines AAdvantage® miles for yourself, or add up to 27,500 bonus miles to your purchase when you gift miles to a friend or loved one.
• What do you want to gift your Valentine? Share it on Twitter using #paypalgenie and you might win it.
• In 2012, we delighted our guests with fine wool blankets. This time we will be gifting a light linen pareo with a stunning image by artist Clifford Ross.
Here’s how I would rephrase the last example. “In 2012, we gave our guests fine wool blankets. This year, each guest will receive a light linen pareo with a stunning image by artist Clifford Ross.”
Now take the word ask, namely its use as a noun. Unless you’re selling stocks or real estate where What’s the ask? is entrenched and acceptable, keep ask to a verb and try request instead. Consider these examples:
• In reference to contacting other chief executives, Mr. Schultz said: “This ‘ask’ was quite easy.”
This was a line from an article about an initiative to find jobs for unemployed young people, led by Starbucks’s head Howard Schultz. Note how the editor put ask in quotes, because it’s not really meant to be used this way.
• We need further clarity on what the “ask” is.
This was a line between an agency and a client. If the author had written request, I suspect she wouldn’t have felt the need to put ask in quotation marks.
Here are a few other examples of words being unnecessarily used in nonstandard forms. They all make me shudder.
• Do you have a solve for this problem?
No, but I have a solution.
• Let’s focus on the build.
Let’s focus on developing this idea.
• We need a rethink of our loyalty programs.
We need to rethink our loyalty programs—or better yet, improve or enhance them.
Here’s another one that makes me shudder: the use of wants as a noun, as in consumers’ wants and needs or We will attract stakeholders with content that satisfies their wants. Yes, wants is in the dictionary as a noun, but, really, do you ever use it that way?
Why not preferences or desires? They’re more natural-sounding. Do we avoid desires because of its sexual overtones?
When I saw The Wall Street Journal use desire in a story about whether Greece would repay its debt—“A Question of Desire,” the headline ran—I had my answer: “Sexual? Decidedly not.”