Gift is quite firmly a noun, right? Buy a gift, give a gift, open a gift. But a quick look at some recent headlines indicates that gift has fully crossed over into verb territory. Holiday gift guides often display this use of gift, as in “Excellent Bottles of Booze to Gift in 2019, According to Bartenders,” or “These Are the Best Haircare Products and Sets to Gift This Holiday Season,” or “Want to gift an experience? Local, regional places to hit up.”

Gifted even shows up as a past tense for the act of gift-giving in articles like “La Crosse fourth-graders gifted $10,000 worth of new books.”

Gifting back

Is this use of gift a new development? Yes and no. Gift has been used as a verb for hundreds of years. A historical account from the 1600s mentions “a parcel of ground which the Queen had gifted to Mary Levinston.” An 1801 history of France notes that “parents were prohibited from selling, gifting, or pledging their children.”

It’s found in works by Charlotte Brontë, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott. Still, the current uses of gift do not sound old-fashioned but rather modern and even a bit trendy. There is something that is new about it.

The use of the verb ‘gift’ for more consumer-oriented types of presents started up in earnest in the celebrity gossip columns of the 1950s.

Or rather, newer. The use of the verb gift for more consumer-oriented types of presents started up in earnest in the celebrity gossip columns of the 1950s. It was there that columnists gave their audiences an exciting taste of the way celebrities gifted each other diamonds and other glamorous items, such as in a 1951 issue of Movieland which described how “Glen Ford gifted Eleanor Powell with a brand new kitchen.”

People began to complain about this usage as soon as it became noticeable, in the same way that decades before they had complained about the verb donate when it was formed off of the much older noun donation. According to those who objected, you don’t donate, you give a donation. You don’t gift, you give a gift.

Donate today

While donate has been completely absorbed into the standard language to the point where no one perceives anything odd about it anymore, the verb gift still strikes people the wrong way — but that is likely to change. The first citation for the verb donate in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1845. In a citation from 1928, more than 80 years later, it is still written with scare quotes, because it still seemed slangy or non-standard at that point.

If we consider the 1950s as the beginning of the new, consumer-oriented use of gifting, we’re still well within the slangy, non-standard phase of this use of the word. We’ve still got until well past 2030 until it becomes unnoticeably normal. Until then, gift away, but expect to be a little judged for it.

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