‘Tis the season for giving!
‘Tis also the season for the omnipresence of a phrase which has become one of my linguistic pet peeves: “giving back.”
Not long ago, conversational English accurately characterized a charitable act as “giving.” Increasingly in recent years, we have been told by the self-appointed monitors of public discourse that such manifestations of generosity are not “giving,” after all, but “giving back.” Though only four letters separate “giving” from “giving back,” there is a vast moral difference between the two terms.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb infinitive to give as to freely transfer the possession of something to someone.
Dictionary.com defines to give back as to return something, as to its owner; to restore.
To describe a charitable act as “giving back” is to imply that the giver must initially have taken or received something. Thus, supplanting the word “giving” with the phrase “giving back” is a seditious linguistic conceit that transmogrifies a generous act of charity into an obligatory act of recompense, simultaneously robbing the individual of his freedom of choice and stripping the charitable act its inherent nobility.
We all know of powerful figures, always politically well-connected, who amass fortunes by acquiring property of others through extortion, cronyism, or other extra-legal activity. Probably everyone reading this post can summon up the names of a handful of such “takers.” It is important to note, though, that very few of us fall into that infamous category.
Some might point out everyone in a community benefits from its social overhead capital, e.g., streets, sanitation systems, public transportation, and public utilities, and therefore owes society something in return. However, since everyone in a community contributes to the upkeep of those facilities, I would contend that average citizens are not net “takers.”
Most people build wealth over lifetimes of work and investment. To characterize the charitable activities of productive members of society as “giving back” is to suggest that a hard-working citizen must overcome an innate social debt akin to a secular Original Sin. One might profitably muse upon the motivations behind this semantic adulteration of a time-honored concept.
I hereby propose that there be an informal grace period for December of 2014 wherein every act of charity, every freely-offered donation, every kind gesture, and every expression of generosity is tacitly accorded its traditional and appropriate honor as an act of GIVING.
Quote for Today
“I am not in the giving vein to-day.” – The King to his hapless and ultimately doomed creditor, the Duke of Buckingham, in a scenario in which “giving back” was manifestly called for! (William Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act IV, Scene II)