03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Word for the Gifting Season

The season then we give a lot of gifts is almost here, and so I am grumpy. I hate gifting. Or rather, I hate "gifting." I opened the New York Times this morning, and on page three Bloomingdale's told me to "Gift Brilliantly." Once upon a time -- that is, earlier in my lifetime -- the only time we gifted things was when we were doing philanthropy. We gifted our hard-won parcel of Berkshire Hathaway shares to our alma mater. We gifted our house in the Berkshires to the Fresh Air Fund. We did not gift a plaid Hathaway shirt to our brother-in-law. And in sharing half our egg-salad sandwich with the homeless guy on the corner we certainly did not gift it to him.

As my sentences above demonstrate -- or rather, as they would demonstrate if one were reading slowly enough to pick up a play on words -- we can endlessly give new meanings to standard words. "Regifting," for example, is a perfect way to repackage the verb "to give." Trailing noun-ish feeling like creased ribbon, the word conjures a material sense of action. You lift the offending tie/scented candle/banana guard (well, I'd keep the banana guard) from the wrappings -- briefly -- then set it back down. You shoot a conspiratorial glance over to your spouse. You close the tissue back over it. The office Secret Santa party is yet to come, and this gift, briefly revealed as a mere object, is a gift again. With a fold of tissue, you have made, with your very hands, a gift: that's the action. Hence the noun-cum-verb, "regift." The shadiness of your act justifies the passive voice you might later use: Where did the tie/candle/guard go? Oh, it was regifted. That's brilliant.

I am now skipping the Safire convention: that part of the post where I give the history of the word's usage, and call up my litty little friends to ask them what they think of a usage that's stuck in my craw. I'm skipping it because the history of gifting doesn't match that favorite conservative story-line I used up front, where we used to speak well, and now we speak badly. English-speaking people have been gifting for a long time, but just because a bad decision's been made for centuries doesn't mean it isn't a bad decision.

Gifted young musicians get their talent, we imagine, from genes, or, better, gods. The gods allow us to preserve the personality involved in giving. Gifting, with its smarmy call to the passive voice (those shares of Berkshire Hathaway were gifted to the school by an anonymous donor; how tasteful!) takes the human being right out of the gift exchange system. It's the grammatical equivalent of the Personal Shopper. Where does my son get his packet of Tops baseball cards? I give it to him. Where does he get his lunch? I give it to him. Where does he get a tissue? From the box, when I won't get up and give it to him.

Pretension wrapped in a noun wrapped in a gerund: that's what gifting is. This holiday season, give the gift that keeps giving: something nice you picked yourself, for a particular person. Sure, it's risky. It expresses a whole range of facts about your intimacy with the person, your odd personality, your class status. But step up to the responsibility of giving rather than finking out by gifting. (The moral of this story: you don't have to be a right-winger to get Scroogy about words.)