Episode 303: December 16, 2011
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It’s the holidays, which means I’m starting to get complaints about people who use “gift” instead of “give” as a verb, so we’ll look into the word’s surprising history as a verb.
Here’s a real message I received from someone who makes her living as a writer: “This year want to gift our customers with a book.” Not “give our customers a book,” but “gift our customers with a book.” It’s cringeworthy, but it’s also pretty common.
The History of “Gifting”
You may be surprised to learn that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "gift" has been used as a verb for nearly 400 years. Here’s an example from 1801 from the “History of France” (1):
Parents were prohibited from selling, gifting, or pledging their children.
Nice place, that France, huh?
“Gifting” and the Gift Tax
Even though they were talking about pledging and gifting children in the 1800s, “gifting” had fallen out of common use as a verb until the tax code changed and people started talking about the gift tax sometime around the late 1930s. Since it was called the gift tax, people started talking about gifting money (instead of giving money).
Gifting and Regifting on Seinfeld
Even so, “gifting” was mostly limited to tax conversations until a 1995 episode of the sitcom Seinfeld called "The Label Maker," in which Elaine called a minor character a "regifter." After that Seinfeld episode, people seemed to start using “gift” as a verb more often.
Given the history of the word “gifting,” it’s not technically wrong to say something such as "I'm gifting her a label maker this year," but it does still bother a lot of people. I get e-mail about it, so I have to say that "give" is still a much better choice. It’s going to be less distracting.
Mignon Fogarty is the author of The Grammar Devotional, a book people will treasure--not regift.