I was recently in an argument with a friend who - equipped with an apparent understanding of the etymology of the words lend and borrow - insisted that to lend an object required not just the temporary exchange of its possession, but also a geographical displacement.

He compared the words lend and borrow to take and bring which involve a transition to/from one's locus, which are apparently linked (though I can't independently verify) to our subject words grammatically.

I argued that to so strongly stipulate (as he did) that an exchange was not a lending because the relocation was not significant (ie; it did not leave his personally defined location), is foolish given the complete generality / ambiguity of the word location. He insisted he could not lend me the salt-shaker as it traveled from his hand to mine because we were both common to the location 'this house', though I remarked that we sat in different locations; our respective chairs.

After much debate, we concluded that to require lending to constitute a relocation is a poor definition, since there are (according to him) obvious stipulations as to the definition of the location.

So... is any of this actually correct? Does lending actually have any requirement for a displacement of the lent object?
If so, what exactly are these conditions (or rather, if they are as contextually defined as we both probably expect, what is a more appropriate word than 'relocation'?)?

(I finally remarked that language is defined by the understanding of its speakers, and that I'd personally never heard a relocation was required in the lending of something. I also think the phrase "lend me your ears" doesn't beckon for their displacement...)

  • 3
    What if you lend someone something that is immovable? "I'm lending Mary the use of my apartment for her dinner party."
    – EFrog
    Jan 7, 2015 at 13:20
  • 3
    You could lend me your ears, and in the normal way of things this wouldn't entail moving them, although you can never be too sure with Romans. Jan 7, 2015 at 13:25
  • 1
    @Brian Hooper The perfect counter-example. I'm annoyed you beat me to it. Jan 7, 2015 at 13:44
  • @EFrog I notice you abstractise to 'the use of my apartment', where physical relocation is not applicable. With 'We're lending the Archers the bottom field', there is no possibility of physical relocation of the field, but one assumes the owners ('we') are then likely to have different space-time coordinates from before. Jan 7, 2015 at 13:55
  • 1
    @BrianHooper - Nor can you be so sure with those crazy French painters.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 7, 2015 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


equipped with an apparent understanding of the etymology of the words lend and borrow - insisted that to lend an object required not just the temporary exchange of its possession

I'm not sure how that follows. Lænan isn't far from the modern meaning (though could cover lease and perhaps give), and the suggestion that it's cognate with linquō meaning "quit" or "leave", λείπω meaning "leave" or "release" and more distantly отлѣкъ meaning "remains" and лишний meaning "superfluous" would seem to suggest its etymological root is more concerned that when you lend something you no longer have it, than anything else.

He insisted he could not lend me the salt-shaker as it traveled from his hand to mine because we were both common to the location 'this house'

Even if we accepted that some concept of "location" was important, how is that not a change of location? How far away does something have to go to be leant? Are we prohibited form lending non-physical money by bank transfer or is that metaphorical use of "location" allowed even when from hand to hand isn't?

Further, even if this had been a real part of the meaning of lænan at some point, that does not mean that it is now. Become does not require a change of geographical location, and it very definitely does have such an etymological heritage.

Suggesting that it had to be would be an etymological fallacy.

  • So there's no history of definition involving relocation? I'd pushed the argument to the extrema of exchanging an object between parks separated by a meter (constituting different locations by whatever depraved, contextual definition he was defending), but that's when the argument descended into "a normal person can intuit a relocation" (which is a defeated admission that is IS contextual, imo).
    – Anti Earth
    Jan 7, 2015 at 13:44
  • No such history from what I can tell. Again, even if there was this wouldn't mean there still was today. After all, corsage comes from the same source as corpse, but corpses are considered inappropriate gifts for ones date on prom night. Or as I said, become does originate in a sense of geographical movement, but that doesn't affect the word now.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 7, 2015 at 13:46
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    @Anti Earth Are you asking "Does 'lending' an object require its relocation?" or "So there's no history of definition involving relocation?" What the accepted meaning of a word is today may be totally different from what it used to mean. Etymology is an extremely weak argument when claiming 'what a word means'. Jan 7, 2015 at 13:49
  • @EdwinAshworth Both! I'd personally argued that language is defined by the speakers, but I was also curious if he was correct in suggesting there was at least some connection between the word (and its history) and relocation (ie; anything that could have prompted this argument)
    – Anti Earth
    Jan 7, 2015 at 13:52
  • @EdwinAshworth I hope I've answered both of those sufficiently, in any case.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 7, 2015 at 13:55

Origin of word lend: Old English lǣnan, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch lenen, also to loan1. The addition of the final -d in late Middle English was due to association with verbs such as bend and send (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)

Meanings of lend (Source: Cambridge Dictionaries):

  1. Give: (a) Transitive verb: “to give something to someone for a short period of time, expecting it to be given back” For Example: If you need a coat I can lend you one/lend one to you. (b) Intransitive or Transitive verb: “If a bank or other organization lends money, it gives money to someone who agrees that they will pay the money back in the future, usually with extra money added to the original amount”. For example: The bank agreed to lend him $5,000

  2. Add To: Transitive verb: “If something lends a particular quality to something else, it adds that quality to it”. For example: These events lend support to the view that the law is inadequate.

Physical location is not important in any of the meanings it is about possession only. For example, in the example given above (“The bank agreed to lend him $5,000”) lend will be used even if it is an electronic transfer not physical transfer of money.

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