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The language of gift-giving

The language of gift-giving

So, the Christmas season is well and truly upon us, something that tends to either warm the cockles of one’s heart, or bring about a blinding depression. For many people the cause of holiday angst is the entire hullabaloo made about gifts and shopping – there is an increasing complaint that the gift-giving (or commercial) aspect of the holiday is overtaking any religious or familial aspects of it.

How gift has spread its way throughout our language

Without taking sides one way or another as to whether Christmas has become spoiled, it is worth pointing out that gifts have indeed infiltrated myriad aspects of our lives, creeping in unexpectedly through our vocabulary.

It may not have quite the etymological reach of sugar (which comes up in words ranging from saccharine to seersucker) or salt (which is part of the roots of salary, salad, and sauce), but gift still has managed to spread its way throughout our language quite thoroughly.

Perhaps one of the earliest gift givers was Pandora, the mythological Greek figure whose box came with the ills of the world, but whose very name is composed of the Greek word for gift (‘dōron’).

It’s better to give than to receive

Gratuity comes from a Latin word meaning ‘gift’, and the South African bonsella comes from a Zulu word of a similar meaning. On the slightly darker side of our vocabulary, words such as mortuary have gifts in their history, as this word in Middle English referred to the gift that a parish priest would take from the estate of a deceased person. And the legal phrase donatio mortis causa, which refers to something that is bequeathed in the near future by someone who expects to die, is taken directly from a Latin phrase meaning ‘gift by reason of death’.

In the event that you need a dose (yet another word that comes from gift) of something to refresh your belief that the holiday shouldn’t solely be about shopping, give yourself a Roman holiday, and go watch people push and shove each other in overcrowded stores full of overpriced goods. Or, as soon as January arrives, get rid of those unwanted presents by regifting and see if it really is better to give than to receive.

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