Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 43: Either a Borrower or a Lender Be

This week, we're looking at a linguistic foible that's actually heard quite often in conversational speech in Minnesota. Evy, who lives in Minnetonka, Minnesota, sent this message to us:
When I moved to Minnesota I heard many people use the word borrow incorrectly: For example, 'Mike asked me to borrow him a book.' Can you please help?
Borrow is defined in the Oxford Dictionary of Current English as "take and use (something from someone else) with the intention of returning it." It also defines the word as "have (money) on loan from a person or bank."
I borrowed three books from the library. My brother let me borrow his electric drill.
The act of borrowing is limited to the recipient of the loan. The person who makes the money or items available for borrowing is a lender. According again to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, to lend is "to allow (someone) to use (something) on the condition it will be returned."
Hey man, could you lend me some money?
My father was happy to lend me his stepladder.
Thus lending is to give, borrowing is to receive, albeit temporarily.
Can I borrow your circular saw?
Sure, I can lend it to you this weekend.
There's a related word, loan, that's worth talking about. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style maintains the word loan is only a noun, and it encourages the use of the verb lend. As we all know, however, language changes over time. The Elements of Style was written in 1919 and updated in 1957 and 1979.

Compare that to the 2003 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, which says loan can be used as a verb meaning "to lend." Fowler's Modern English Usage corroborates this.

Ultimately, those who use the word borrow reflexively have two correct alternatives from which to choose, lend or loan ... and they don't have to return them.

Sources: Fowler's Modern English Usage by R.W. Burchfield; The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White; and the Oxford Dictionary of Current English.

Music from this Episode: "Nothing Left to Borrow" by The Jayhawks; "I Don't Lend My Man" by Anne Peebles.

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