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Is "Gifting" a Word?

"Gifting" is a word with a long and interesting history (Scotland, anyone?), but it still annoys a lot of people. Here's why "gifting" is growing again.

By
Mignon Fogarty
Episode #598

a picture of a gift to illustrate that gifting is a word

It’s the holidays, which means I’m starting to get complaints about people who use “gift” instead of “give” as a verb. 

Here’s a real message I received from someone who makes her living as a writer: “This year we 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'

People talking about gifting items may sound new and grating, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “gift” has been a verb for nearly 400 years. It meant “endow,” as in “He has been gifted (or endowed) with a photographic memory,” but more relevant to our discussion today, it also meant “to give” as in to give a gift. For example, “The History of the Church and State of Scotland,” written in the 1600s, includes the line “The recovery of a parcel of ground which the Queen had gifted to Mary Levinston.”

The OED and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage both make a point to mention that using “gift” as a verb is especially common in Scottish English. The OED calls it “chiefly Scottish” and Merriam-Webster says that much of their own evidence for the usage comes from Scottish sources.

However, it wasn’t limited to just Scotland. Here’s an example from 1801 from the “History of France” (1): 

Parents were prohibited from selling, gifting, or pledging their children. 

Wow. People really thought about children differently back then. If you’re a long-time listener, you may remember that it was just a few years earlier than this that the prominent grammarian Lindley Murray said we shouldn’t use “who” to refer to children because they aren’t rational beings. 

But I digress.

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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