Orwell Watch #3: Please. No “gifting” this Christmas.


Please.  No “gifting” this Christmas.

I’m not particular sensitive to nouns used as verbs, but this one gets to me.  I have consulted my Oxford English Dictionary, and apparently it thinks the fault is mine — it lists a variety of instances in which “gift” was used as a verb from the 17th to 19th century.  The OED bids me keep my petty grievances to myself.

But I can’t.  The sudden reemergence of the term coincides with a number of other words that have been recycled into verbs — I am tired, also of people being “tasked” with unimportant activities.  Wordnik has a list of irritations here, and admittedly, in the debauched wordsmithery of journalism, I am guilty of many sins on this score.  “Impact,” for example.

So why do “gifting” and “tasking” irk me so?  Perhaps because of what I suspect is the underlying motive in their use.  “Gifting” someone sounds so much more self-important than “giving a gift.”  Being “tasked” with some trivial occupation gives it the aura of high mission.

But while I’m at it, a recent article I wrote, interviewing literary scholars, turned up these clinkers:  One spoke of “foregrounding” different opinions. I had left the passage in my final article, but it made my editor throw up a little in his mouth, so it was deleted.  Another scholar spoke of “theatricalizing” such differences.

Perhaps we could “gift” people with a few useful synonyms as gifts this Christmas?

Postscript:  Clearly, I am in a minority.  A poll showed that most think “whatever” to be the most grating word, followed by “like.” As Jim Erwin commented on my Facebook page:  “Fail on currenting. Teh mos def gr8ting spelling now is, like, ‘Whatevs'”

Postscript on 12/22: An interesting, lawyerly p.o.v. from Max Taylor on my Facebook page: “Hoary legitimacy only makes the experience of words we wish would go away worse. Like the Latin ‘nuculum’ in which the embarrassing “nucular” might find refuge.”

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4 Responses to “Orwell Watch #3: Please. No “gifting” this Christmas.”

  1. Jeff Sypeck Says:

    I’m with you on “gifting.” Plenty of languages, including German, have a verb for “to give as a gift,” and it seems to work for them, but to my native-English ear, “gifting” comes loaded with presumption. If I “give a gift,” the verb is pretty neutral and the object speaks, I think, only to my intention, not to how pleased or displeased the recipient was. By contrast, “I gifted him the book” hints that I objectively did right by the recipient and implies a deliberate act of charity that mustn’t be met with ingratitude. (In a wealthy society, we give things to each other with relative ease; “gifting” is perhaps a way to make the act of giving sound less trite.)

    That said, I really like “regift” as a verb; it has a tangy irony about it that suits the minor discomfort that accompanies the deed itself.

  2. Elena Danielson Says:

    Nice point, “regifting” is a cheesy word for a cheesy act….

  3. Max Taylor Says:

    If you didn’t know I was a lawyer, would my comment still be lawyerly?

  4. Jim Erwin Says:

    Don’t answer him Cynthia, he’ll tear you apart in the cross-questioning.