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I'm curious about why we say things like, "If I could have your attention please", "Please give me your focus", and "Please give me the same respect you want for yourself". When did these become distributable resources?

Does anyone have insight into how this came about and why we use these as we do?
We don't use other intangible nouns like this, so why do we use a select few in this special way? ("Could I have your kindness?" sounds weird, as do things like, good humor, and excitement".)

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"Can I have your mercy?" or "Give us mercy" would be another usage. Grace, love, a chance are a few others. Negative requests are also common: "Don't give me that attitude." –  MrHen Mar 24 '11 at 18:15
    
How about "Friends, Romans, countrymen: lend me your ears"? –  TimLymington Jun 11 '11 at 17:23

1 Answer 1

As nouns, attention and respect have always been exchangeable commodities -- one pays respect to or pays attention to a person or object worthy of such payment, and we seem always to have done so. (In French, one does attention*, but I have never run across that usage in English except when I was teaching ESL.) People have also always asked for or demanded attention and respect. It's the standard usage.

That use of focus, on the other hand, is definitely non-standard. I have never heard or seen it until you posted this question -- the usual use is to ask that the listener focus, or "focus on me", "focus on what we're doing", etc.

*The phrase is faire attention, and the verb faire is used in the sense of to do rather than to make.

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I'm more interested in why they're standard usage. –  Nathan G. Feb 23 '11 at 18:26
    
@Nathan: you do realise that that is never and has never been more than guesswork, right? All we have is the record of usage to work with, and analogous uses in other languages. The working analogy in English is to accord respect, attention, admiration and so forth an equal footing with tribute (which is now metaphorical, but which was once money or goods). –  bye Feb 23 '11 at 18:39
    
I do realize this. I was just curious if anyone had some special knowledge or a good theory. I've been surprised here before. As for focus, that's a common usage in my classroom environment ("If I could have your focus for another minute, we can finish this lesson.") –  Nathan G. Feb 23 '11 at 18:48
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Is it a computer related class? Stealing, grabbing, and having focus are computing terms of art. As a side note: one might ask when "affection" became wet ("showering him with affection") –  horatio Feb 23 '11 at 19:48
    
@horatio No, this is not a computer class. Just junior high. –  Nathan G. Feb 23 '11 at 23:13

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