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Gift Horses and Push Presents

\r\nThe language of our stressful holiday exchanges.\r\n‘Tis the season of giving! With luck, we will also get. My gift to you is a...

The language of our stressful holiday exchanges.

‘Tis the season of giving! With luck, we will also get. My gift to you is a look at gift-centric phrases-some common, some under-the-radar. I hope these words will help you as you navigate the treacherous holiday waters, which are so often soaked in booze, gravy, and reindeer tears.

push present

This isn't a holiday thing, unless you count birthdays: It's a vivid-as-hell term for a gift given to a woman who has just become a mother. Sometimes called a "push gift" or the catchier "baby bauble," these are usually given by the father (the three wise men being a notable exception). Double-tongued Dictionary Curator Grant Barrett traces this term back to a 1992 article: "Let us say that Annette Bening has lost all that baby weight-Warren must have given her a ThighMaster as a push present-and looked understated yet ravishing."

gift horse

Today, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" is an opaque-ish idiom, because who knows what a gift horse is, or why its mouth shouldn't be gazed upon? Horse-havers know that checking a horse's teeth can tell you their health, so if someone actually did give you a horse, an immediate dental examination would be a tad ungrateful. The Oxford English Dictionary has only one example that isn't a use of this idiom, but that one example does show that the term did mean a real horse given as a gift, at least occasionally: "The Captain..put spurs to his very fine gift-horse" (1837).

shopper's block

As defined in The Word Spy, this is "The inability to think of a suitable present for a particular person." I wish I would've had this problem a few years ago, when I unthinkingly gave Waiting for Godot as a present to a girlfriend, as the relationship was struggling. It never occurred to me that this bleak tale of two desperate people stranded in a hellish co-dependency could be looked upon as a commentary on the relationship. I just thought, "Hey, it's a great play!" Shopper's block could have really helped me out.


The term "regifting" is usually assumed to be a Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David original. But is it? New updates to the OED definitively show that "regift" precedes Seinfeld by well over 200 years. The term is first recorded in 1727, well before the 1995 episode that featured dentist Tim Whatley and the hot-potato-like Label Baby Jr.-a label-maker that caused Elaine to bellow "I think this is the same one I gave him. He recycled this gift. He's a regifter!" But Seinfeld can at least take credit for popularizing the term and making the current meaning stick. Older senses were a little different; the word often referred to stuff that was inherited, as used here in 1910: "These presents and regifts have gone back through the families for generations."

gift trauma

If you thought regifting was the dark side of giving, then you must not have heard of gift trauma-or "gift hatred," as SunWolf (yes, her real name) described a few years ago: "It's out of hand because people are now overgifting. Some people develop 'gift hatred' because they dread receiving a gift-it's too much pressure to try to pretend they want or like something. At Christmas, especially, there's this constant, pervasive tension." SunWolf has a point. In fact, "constant, pervasive tension" is a holiday tradition as entrenched as eggnog and mistletoe.

giftless gift

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, Chrismukah-or even the Verdukian Night of Mouth Pleasures, as recently invented on 30 Rock-make sure you don't give a "giftless gift." Here's an example from 1650: "Abraham gave gifts. So doth God to reprobates; but they are giftless gifts: better be without them."

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