Words Matter

by Kerry Dougherty

It started Wednesday morning with an innocent phone call to the “Kerry and Mike Show.”

A caller was talking guns – what else? – with Mike Imprevento and mentioned that someone had wanted to GIFT him a gun.

What’s wrong with GIVE, I thought, gritting my teeth.

Mike responded with something about GIFTING firearms and I couldn’t control myself. I was in such a state that I could no longer focus on the firearm issue.

“Stop!” I begged. “Gift is a noun. Give is a verb. You give a gun, you give a gift. You do not GIFT!”

I feel so strongly about the misuse of “gift” that I wrote about it two years ago when Nordstrom had an irritating holiday campaign, “Let’s Go Gifting.” In a vain attempt to stop this atrocious assault on the English language I begged the store’s advertising knuckleheads to cease and desist, while admitting that my research showed that there is a culture – just one – that uses “gift” as a verb:

As it happens, “gift” has been used as a verb for about 400 years.


Look around. Do you see the Loch Ness monster? Did you eat haggis for Thanksgiving dinner? Are you wearing a kilt? Do you hear bagpipes? Is your name Sean Connery? If you answered no to all five of these questions, you are not Scottish and you’re not in Scotland. You have no reason to misuse the word “gift.”

Yesterday’s rant unleashed a volley of phone calls from our smart listeners. They sounded off about their grammar pet peeves. Man, do they have them!

Fewer versus less, affect versus effect, inflammable versus flammable, apostrophe abuse and more. Since then, emails have been pouring in with grammar gripes.

Then I remembered something that had been annoying me since Monday. A Tweet from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:


Bear in mind, AOC graduated with honors from a fine school: Boston University, with a BA in international relations and economics.

Yet there it is: I’s.

No one wants to end the year on a negative note, but hey, it’s 2020. The future of the English language?


This column is republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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27 responses to “Words Matter”

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I miss my grandmother and her seven sisters. When they gathered for the holidays you never heard such precise and correct use of the English language. Old school Hanover County family who never had money but they did have upbringing and education. The last two used to mean something in Virginia. I was a smart little boy. I knew what to do. Stay quiet and I would not be corrected all the time!

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “Bear in mind, AOC graduated with honors from a fine school: Boston University, with a BA in international relations and economics.”

    Fine school? How old are you, Kerry? That was decades ago, when Boston University was a fine school. Today it is a screaming smoking mess. Most every idiot now graduates from Boston University with honors. That’s why we got AOC. And all her rioters in our streets screaming and hollering about all their grievances, and about all those white peoples’ awful privileges that oppress those Boston U and Yale and Harvard and UVA students.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Words Matter.

      Words sure as hell do matter. That’s the damn problem, the big rub. The really scary thing.

      That’s why College professors no longer grade their students words. It’s too dangerous. And there is no reward. Only endless anxiety, until the professor gets accused and losses his job, for teaching, when no one cares. Not the kid, not the school. Not the parents.

      Why? Simple. No one defends the professor, trying to teach.

      Students get anxious and angry if professors start teaching, messing around with student’s words. Those words belong to that student, not the professor. Professors messing with students words are oppressive, hierarchical, making cruel assertions of the privilege, stripping student of their identity, their safe spaces from ridicule, the students’ unfettered right to say and write whatever they damn well please, whenever its pleases them. Why, because words are like slut walks, even more important.

      So that is the way the colleges are set up. Its good for business. Students in all their diversity get fun and great grades, and no flunks out. So ratings go through the roof, as schools get all their money (from parents, kids, and Uncle Sam), while faculty have endless summer holidays for hobbies.

      This of course makes students commodities we call customers. Thus a simple student complaint can end a professors career. Particularly now in our toxic world, arming students with all the horrible ways a student can frame and marshal accusations, and cancel out and destroy a college professor who teaches, the lowest of low on the totem pole.

      So far too many of these teaching professors have given up correcting written words in essays, or grading or otherwise judging the substance of their expression in a written paper or essay. It is too dangerous. So these professors limit their marked comments on students papers to punctuation. I came across this fact some ten years ago in a fine book by a fine UVa. professor. Maybe by now, correction of students punctuation is out of bounds too. Maybe today students rule the classroom totally. Professors, for their own safety, leave students alone. That way the students will leave them alone too. So teaching is out the window. And everybody is happy. And nobody cares.

      Until, of course everybody gets angry, and takes to the streets. After all, there’s nothing else to do.

  3. I have so many…
    The first one that really bothered me occurred in business meetings when one would say “utilize.” I guess “use” didn’t sound smart enough.
    Don’t get me started on grammar and apostrophes and the difference between plurals and possessives…
    But I had to rant on a LinkedIn post the other day for use and context. The Dean of the UVA Business School posted that he was proud AND HUMBLED to receive an award. It’s like bragging of your pride in your humility. I suggested he could be proud of being named, and then he would SHOW humility by giving credit to the school and all the people who really caused the recognition to occur.
    I know…anal and persnickety, but as Kerry titled her article, “Words Matter.”

  4. Eric the Half a Troll Avatar
    Eric the Half a Troll

    My high school English teacher would give a F to any paper with a single comma splice, you’d think I would’ve learned!!

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      Do what I do, “;”. Cures all ills.

      Only God knows how to really use the damned thing, so you’ve got a lot of wiggle room. By that, I mean it’s probably one of the Old Testament laws.

  5. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    “Send me an invite” still irritates even though it is almost universally used.

  6. Emilio Jaksetic Avatar
    Emilio Jaksetic

    For more examples of nouns being turned into verbs, see Ammon Shea, Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation (Penguin/Perigee Books, 2014), Chapter 3 (“Verbing Nouns”).

    For a historical perspective on the battles between people advocating correct English (prescriptive approach) and people advocating English as it is actually used (descriptive approach), take a look at Jack Lynch, The Lexicographers Dilemma (Walker & Co., 2009).

  7. Matt Adams Avatar

    English is a very complex language and I can admit, I’m horrible at it. Sentence diagraming drove me bonkers in school, that’s why I went gravitated towards the science.

    However, my pet peeve is confusing “want over need”.

  8. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    Wow! A grammar cop! Who’d have guessed? Oooh, oooh, who’d’ve guessed?

    God, correcting tweets. Start with “covfefe”. Clearly a Yalie!

    BTW, spend 1 month dealing with Government contracting. Add “ing” to it solves everything.

  9. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    This is one of the few times that I enthusiastically agree with Kelly. My teeth grate when I hear “gift” used as a verb. My other major teeth-grinders: 1. “ask” used as a noun. “How much is your ask?” 2. “impact” used as a verb. Objects make an impact, they don’t impact stuff.

    1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
      Peter Galuszka

      I hate it when tv stations report that after a car wreck, injured are taken to “the” hospital. Is there only one?

      1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        The Brits use no articles, neither “the” nor “a”, with hospital, e.g., he is in hospital. But then they don’t speak English.

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          I like English mysteries–on TV and books, like those by Elizabeth George. To my American mind, it seems odd to hear or read, “He is in hospital.” Using the purist approach of Peter, it should not be “the hospital” but “a hospital”.

          I don’t recall that they ignore the article “a” or “the” with any noun other than hospital.

          1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            Just a swag, but hospital is not just a place, but a situation; a noun and a verb mushed together, so to speak.

            We sort of do the same with rehab as a place of rehabilitation. He’s in rehab, not a rehab, when we clearly mean a facility. So whatever part of speech that is.

          2. Ironically, Elizabeth George is an American.

          3. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            Uh oh. Jail. Prison. Rehab.
            We say, “He’s in xxx” with all 3 of those.

            It’s US. We’re the weird ones for putting an article on hospital!

        2. idiocracy Avatar

          A hospital? What is it?

          It’s a big building with patients. But that’s not important right now.

    2. A sure-fire way to win a donation from Dick: “How your are you gifting toward our ask this year?”

  10. John Harvie Avatar
    John Harvie

    My pet peeve (having had a grammar teacher as my mom) is “lie” v. “lay” and you almost never see lie used correctly.

    There is a world of difference between the two.

    A lesser peeve is “affect” v. “effect”.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      So, I assume that you did not grow up saying, and hear said, “I lay down a few minutes to rest.”

      1. John Harvie Avatar
        John Harvie

        Depends upon past or present tense…

        Either could be correct. Conjugation be damned!

    2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      by Wallace McRae. (The Cowboy Poet)

      I taught my good dog, Maggie
      To lay down when I commanded
      I also taught her “Set”
      Whenever I demanded.
      I’ll teach her next to speak, I said
      She struggled to comply
      And when she learned to speak, she said:
      “You twit. It’s ‘Sit’ and ‘Lie.’”

  11. John Harvie Avatar
    John Harvie

    Just saw another one referenced on today’s Drudge Report: “Citron delivered hundreds of millions of extra dollars to the county and local governments. Others SUNG his praises.”.

    My capitalization…

    Conjugating seems a lost art.

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      He hanged himself. He hung himself.
      One conjures the image of a plastic surgeon.

      I cannot remember the 19th century grammarian’s name, but she was quite famous and as she was on her deathbed, her last words were “I am going to die. I am about to die. At this point, it doesn’t matter.”

      “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s a record.” Hotel Chelsea.

  12. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    With a you great wordsmiths here, would someone have an opinion on this… “a historic event” or “an historic event”?

  13. So, if you are a gift, you have a grift.

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