October 23, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: loan and lend, one or you or I

Posted in lend/loan, loan and lend, one or you or I at 5:32 pm by dlseltzer


October 21, 2008 NBC Today Show


I was getting ready for work on Tuesday morning, when I glanced at the TV and saw this. Yikes! It made me want to tuck my head in, and go right back to sleep!


A cautionary tale


Once upon a time, I had a flash drive that I used religiously but backed up only occasionally. It contained a good chunk of my life. This is the cautionary part: when I went to plug it in on Monday, it was gone, nowhere to be found, and I can’t begin to think about all of the work that I have lost. Please do as I say and not as I do, and back up your work on a regular basis. How we can entrust so much of what we do to a tiny flash drive that could easily disappear, I don’t know. But we do. So please take precautions and back up your work. And if this calamity should happen to you, pray forfend, while CVS and Rite Aid charge 25 bucks for a 1 gig drive, the Book Center sells 8 gigs for $45. (Of course, that gives you 8 gigs of data that is vulnerable to loss.)

Thanks to Kathleen for helping me find a word to describe the loss of the flash drive – I knew it was more than a mishap and less than a disaster (we see so many real disasters these days) – but couldn’t come up with the right word that falls between mishap and disaster, and Kathleen came up with calamity which is just right!


October 18, 2008, 5:20 pm Wall Street Journal Blog


Can the Government Force Banks to Lend?

The U.S. government is putting up $250 billion from the $700 billion financial-system rescue plan to inject capital directly into banks. Officials hope banks will turn around and start lending more freely to consumers and businesses. But what if the banks simply hoard the capital?

“That is a concern,” Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee. But, he added, ” we know that replenishing capital is going to at least lay the foundation for them loaning.”

Tip 1: lend and loan


A reader writes:

Loan vs lend as a verb — my classical education taught me that loan is a noun, not a verb; the proper verb is lend. No one other than I observes this, it seems. Would you comment?

I suspect that this issue will come as a real surprise to most readers who never thought twice about using loan as a verb. Aren’t they synonymous?

Hey, could you loan me $5 until I get to the ATM?


She is going to lend him her book on romance poems.

So what is this all about? Well, in the beginning (for our purpose, the early 1600s), ‘loan’ and ‘lend’ were both freely used as verbs. As time passed on, ‘lend’ became the predominant verb. In the UK, ‘loan’ was considered to be a noun only, and that movement trickled over to the US. But, here, the proponents of ‘loan the verb’ multiplied, and it became commonplace to use ‘loan’ as a verb. However, those in the UK and US traditionalists still believe that ‘loan’ should only be used as a noun.


I want to share with you H W Fowler’s take on this from A Dictionary of Modern English Usage:

Loan. The verb, formerly current, was expelled from idiomatic English by lend. But it survived in the U.S., and has now returned to provide us with a needless variant.

I honestly don’t know which I like more, the phrase, ‘formerly current,’ or ‘needless variant.’ But wait, listen to just one small part of what Mr. Fowler has to say about ‘needless variant.’

Though it savours of presumption for any individual to label words needless, it is certain that words deserving the label exist; the question is which they are, and who is the censor that shall disenfranchise them.

It goes on for another column and a half, and I recommend it whole heartedly.


The only problem is that although Mr. Fowler attempted to disenfranchise ‘loan,’ it’s still very much alive and kicking. So what is our conclusion about about using ‘loan’ as a verb? It is very widely used as our reader points out – he being the only one to observe the use of ‘loan’ as a noun only – so I would use it as a verb without any heavy thought but knowing there are some around you who will look at it as an error and a disgrace.

Tip 2: one or you or I – when to use the third person

As a bit of a change (and just a wee bit embarrassing), Tip 2 was inspired by my review of some of my own work! I’m in the process of updating and revising the content of a web site on mentoring I developed a while back. While reading, I saw that it was written, by and large, in the neutral third person. And frankly, as a result, I was bored out of my mind.

One can improve his or her ability to communicate effectively…

Give me a break! This is just terrible to read! So as I’m updating the site, I am striving to make the site more ‘user-friendly’ by eliminating most of the third person language and changing it to the first or second person, that is, I will use ‘you’ and ‘me’ and ‘I’ and ‘we.’ What does this accomplish?


It makes the narrative more active than passive. It helps to engage the reader. It makes the writing more powerful and, at the same time, more personal.

I know that many of us were taught in school never to use the first person unless we are stating an opinion and not to use the second person because it is too informal; the third person is preferred because it is objective and ‘professional.’ What nonsense!

When we want to engage our readers, it is fine to use the first or second person. Use “when one is successful in his or her endeavors…” when one wants to drive his or her readers to drink.

Of course, the third person has its place. I encourage you to think carefully about the ‘voice’ of your writing and don’t be afraid of the first or second person.

One final note, and I expect there will be some disagreement here as we tend to be set in our ways, we often say, when talking about proposal writing – and K-type proposals in particular – that we want to use the candidate section to get the reviewers to like you so they are on your side and become your advocate and so they may overlook an little errors they encounter in the research plan. Then why on earth do many people write the narrative in the third person which only serves to distance the reader?

Dr. Davenport graduated from medical school and discovered, as an intern, her passion for research.

What’s that all about? Why not


After medical school, I began my internship at johns Hopkins, and I discovered that I had a passion for clinical research; I wanted to understand the mechanisms by which…

Engage the reader in the candidate section, and they may forgive any transgressions they find later.



  1. curt said,

    In the spirit of the Washington Post Invitational (the competition that gave us reintarnation: coming back to life as a hillbilly) I suggest that although calamity is the perfect word to describe the loss of a flash drive, datastrophy is more fun.

  2. dlseltzer said,

    katy said:

    What about regionalisms? In the midwest, (further west than Pgh) I discovered that borrow was used for both borrow and lend/loan! As in will you borrow me a dime?

  3. dlseltzer said,

    steve said:

    May I recommend the IronKey flashdrive. If you had lost it not only could a
    thief not open or use it, but you could buy a new one and have the data
    copied right back to it from a remote site for free. See http://www.ironkey.com
    Please note however that this thumb drive will not work with hard drives
    that are encrypted using a software-based encryption…

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