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Another look at Borrow vs. Lend
Tuesday, June 5, 2007   8:46 AM

One "correction" that always presses my cider is the enforcement of the borrow vs. lend distinction in spoken English.

In edited English: no, it's not allowed. The rules are irrational, but that's the game.

However, only very rarely in spoken English does the use of borrow to mean "to give someone something temporarily" create any actual confusion.

Mainly this is because it's clear from the context, but equally important is the fact that, for native speakers of English, certainly here in the Midwest if not elsewhere, the distinction between giving and receiving is never lost.

You borrowed a toothbrush.
You borrowed out a toothbrush.
You borrowed someone a toothbrush.
While I should note that for me, *You borrowed a toothbrush to him is still ungrammatical, the last two forms aren't. And unlike the first sentence, they clearly signal that you is not the one getting the toothbrush, either through the use of a preposition to change the meaning of the verb, or with a good old fashioned indirect object.

(I'm waiting for the day, a hundred years hence, when some schoolteacher chides a student with "You borrowed whom a toothbrush?")

What is usually the most convincing prescriptivist objection — that expanding the usage of one word will result in a useful distinction being lost — doesn't hold here, thanks to our good friend syntax.

Yet there will always be people out there who get annoyed at this use of borrow (my friend from New Jersey hateses its), even though they know deep down, in their Wernicke's area of Wernicke's areas, exactly what you mean.

The most they have is an aesthetic objection to what is an increasingly common usage.

They can safely be ignored.

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