Don’t Forget to Gift Your Valentine

The email arrived from a major retailer advising us to “order by tomorrow to gift your valentine.” Here we have another noun (gift) turned into a verb. We looked it up in multiple dictionaries and found, lo and behold, it is grammatically correct. But we judge it sonically wrong.


In writing, and speaking, certain words might be grammatically correct, but they sound just odd enough to cause the reader or the listener to stumble as we stop following the flow of the narrative momentarily to think about the odd word, which is something writers and speakers should want to avoid.


In a wonderful piece in The Atlantic in 2014 entitled “Gift Is Not a Verb,” Megan Garber wrote with wit and style about this very thing. Her beef is that substituting “gift” for “give” is a crass commercialization of a word and moves humanity from an expression of generosity to something merely transactional. She asks: “Would you ever say “gifting” out loud? Would you ever, without a sense of irony or shame, ask someone the question, `What can I gift you for your birthday?’”


She cites linguist Mark Liberman from the University of Pennsylvania on the phenomenon of word aversion, “a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sight or sound of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong, nor because it’s felt to be over-used or redundant or trendy or non-standard, but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant or even disgusting.”


We have a few aversions of our own – like “plethora,” which is usually used to mean a large or excessive amount of something, but also means a morbid condition of excess red corpuscles in the blood. We don’t care for “remuneration” (which too many people pronounce as re-Numeration) as a substitute to paying someone for work. We never find words like these “offputting,” we are simply put off by them.


In healthy writing, proper grammar isn’t always the best and only determinant.