Do You Give Presents or Gifts?

gift, present, Christmas

This time of year we are all making our lists and checking them twice. All this holiday shopping got us thinking: where do the words gift and present come from? Why does English use both? It’s not just so that children can ask for toys in multiple ways.

Language is not a linear, predestined development. Even though it may feel as if the language we speak is in some way the logical conclusion of thousands of years of development, every word that we use has a unique, sometimes circuitous history.

The word gift wandered through multiple meanings before arriving at its current common meaning: “something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance.” In Old English, its most dominant meaning was “payment for a wife,” or a dowry. Gift originates in the Proto-Indo-European base ghabh- which came from the Sanskrit word gabhasti meaning “hand or forearm.” (Gabhasti is also the root of the word habit.) While gift became associated only with marriage payments, the related verb give followed a different trajectory of meaning; it denoted the specific act of putting something in someone else’s hands, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Around the 1300s, the word gift began to assume a more general meaning of an object freely given to another person.

But what about its synonym present? Present was imported into English from Old Norman (also called Old French). Present originally meant the same thing as the adjective present, “being there.” It was used in the French phrase mettre en present, to mean “to offer in the presence of.” By the early 1300s, it became synonymous with the thing being offered. (Present did not acquire the sense of “the present time” until the 1500s.)

A more recent evolution of the term came in the popular word regift. The word refers to the common practice of giving away a gift that you received from someone else, like candles, bubble bath, and ugly slippers.

If gift and present do not suffice, you could always use one of these gift-related terms:

(When did gifts become an essential part of the Christmas holiday? Learn more about Santa and his sidekicks here.)

Do you use gift and present in different ways?

Cartoon: Kids Play Across Platforms.(Cartoon Network)

Multichannel News February 19, 2007 | Reynolds, Mike By Mike Reynolds New York– At its Valentine’s Day upfront presentation, Cartoon Network executives spoke sweetly about kids’ love for its multiplatform vehicles and how advertisers could shower them with sponsorship reach and affection.

Cartoon executives extolled the virtues of its continued push into digital with broadband networks Toonami Jetstream in July and the Cartoon Network Video, which began screening original-series episodes in the fall. Together, the services generate 20 million monthly video streams.

Cartoon’s online gaming services, meanwhile, collectively attracted 2 billion game plays in 2006. No doubt, there will be more with the introduction of Gadget Games, which features a Web cam so players can get inside the contests; and Mini-Match, which aspires to spawn a safe social world where kids create their characters and challenge each other. site cartoon network video

Senior vice president and general manager of new media Paul Condolora demonstrated CallToons, a new endeavor integrating smart technology with the voice of Cartoon Network characters on mobile phones. The product is expected to be available in the fourth quarter.

On the programming side, the focus will remain largely on boys 6 to 11, where Cartoon said it leads the way with a 43% share. All told, Cartoon’s largest output ever will yield 662 new half-hour episodes of returning series and two dozen new premiere movies, including Ben 10-Live-Action Movie , driven from the popular series, and specials. cartoonnetworkvideo.org cartoon network video

Among the latter: the multimedia Props , in which 16 kids, engaging in sports, music, art or hobbies, will be profiled this summer on-air and online, leading to a one-hour TV show in September for six finalists.

Senior vice president promotions marketing Phyllis Ehrlich said that as was the case when Andre Benjamin’s Class of 3000 bowed last year, Cartoon will back its upcoming specials via an array of sponsorable vehicles that could encompass online, video streaming, video-on-demand fare, podcasting, sweepstakes, customized spots and even on-pack or in-store tie-ins.

Five new series are also on tap: Santo (working title), based on the legend of a real-life wrestling hero; Chowder , about the misadventures of a very hungry young chef’s apprentice; The Secret Saturdays , centering on scientists who protect against the world’s terrifying things; The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack , in which a boy inside a whale heads for a magical dessert-ed island; and Re-Animated , based on the network’s first animated/ live-action film.

Reynolds, Mike


  1. Luis -  January 1, 2014 - 4:24 pm

    I never really thought about the this…

  2. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 31, 2013 - 3:45 am

    I just thought of something the other day: We use gift wrap and gift bags, but not “present wrap” or “present bags.” Maybe just because “gift wrap” is quicker to say? Or maybe another reason? Whatever, Happy New Year, Dictionary.com Blog community! And to all you Minecrafters out there: May you discover diamonds, never be slain by zombies, and build the best world Minecraft has ever seen! Happy New Year!

  3. HĂ„kan -  December 30, 2013 - 3:07 pm

    Proto-Indo-European didn’t come from Sanskrit, it’s the other way around. Sanskrit came from PIE. “Gabhasti” is just a parallel evolution.

  4. Tomas -  December 27, 2013 - 3:15 am

    I buy some presentes in gift store!?

  5. Pavan Saini -  December 26, 2013 - 3:26 am

    ‘Gift’ are given from higher hierarchy to lower one; and are not expected to get back in return. While ‘present’ is exchanged in equal level.

  6. OUEDRAOGO Patindyalogo Brice -  December 20, 2013 - 10:45 am

    network is amazing

  7. HubertHintelnichtsnervertlachen -  December 13, 2013 - 7:28 am

    It’s somewhat hard to describe the differences I find between what I call “gifts” and what I call “presents”, but I can feel the difference when I imagine instances where things of each kind are given, and my behavior seems to vary with regularity in the imagined instances. It seems I distribute “gifts” when my motivation to distribute them is emotional or personal rather than formal, social, or obligatory; e.g., cases in which I “have to” give by purchasing something from a wedding registry for folks I don’t know too well, when I don’t invest much in the process, are presents. On the other hand, I would repay a kindness with a gift, particularly a gift I selected. The distinction is fuzzy; what I’m “obliged” to do on Christmas or other holidays seems more like giving “gifts” when I consider what I’ll give and when I am close to the recipient. It seems that “gift” is more serious, in a sense, or has more emotional weight, and I think I sometimes use “present” as a diminutive or part of an endearment. (-_-;;) If I talk to my wife in a dopey, cutely sweet voice I might ask if she wants a present, drawing out the first syllable.

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