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I have noticed that customer service reps often ask me to "verify my address" or "verify my date of birth".

I am not a native English speaker, but the way I understand the word "verify", I would then expect them to state the address they have on file for me, and I would verify or confirm whether the address they have is correct.

What they really want is for me to state my address/DOB.

Is my understanding of the word verify correct or incorrect? Am I splitting hairs?

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    You're right. They should really say, "I'd like to verify your address, would you please state it for me." Apr 26, 2016 at 18:27
  • It means they are looking at it on the screen without telling you and want to you verify what they see which is impossible because you can't see it. They should be saying: we need to check or verify whether the address you will give me is the one I already have.
    – Lambie
    Apr 26, 2016 at 18:58
  • It's the opposite: they're asking you to verify the address, rather than they verify it for you.
    – Tim Malone
    Apr 26, 2016 at 22:00
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    I think your understanding of the meaning of “verify” is totally correct and I agree that this is a new (and strained at best) usage of the word. Some might argue that it’s just semantics or splitting hairs, but I think the only thing they are or should really be concerned with is verifying/trying to verify your identity and their request for that information is not for the purpose of having you verify the info but rather for the purpose of having you verify/demonstrate to their satisfaction that you are truly who you claim to be.
    – Papa Poule
    Apr 26, 2016 at 22:11
  • @PapaPoule I have to admit that there is also the possibility that "verify" here means: "Can you please confirm that the address I've written down is correct". Gmail use it in this context when they ask you to confirm/verify your phone number in case you forget your password in the future. Though I don't remember if the word they use is "confirm" or "verify", the sentence structure is similar.
    – slebetman
    Apr 27, 2016 at 18:22

3 Answers 3

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Technically this is a misuse. But its evolution comes not from non-native speakers making grammatical mistakes, rather it comes from (presumably) native speakers attaching new (technical) meanings to the word "verify".

The real question the service rep is asking you is:

Please verify your identity by stating your address.

The meaning here is the same meaning you said you understand: to confirm your identity. And to do that you are asked to state your address as a form of password.

In computing and security this step is called verification. And the reason it's called that is obvious: the user needs to be challenged to ensure he's not an imposter. So technically the verification is of the user, not the password. So you'll see in a lot of code and publications of computing related papers and documents related to policing and security where the word "verify" is used in the same way the rep you spoke to is using it.

Technically the usage is incorrect. But English tend to evolve to embrace commonly used language constructs. I would not be surprised if this usage would be considered normal in the future.

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  • +1, because I don’t see how the truth/accuracy of any information can be verified/demonstrated by this method. If the customer purposely provided a false address/DOB in the account application, responding with erroneous info that matches the bad info on file would not magically render it true/accurate (although it would tend to verify the caller’s identity); & if the bad info was accidentally provided earlier, responding w/correct info that doesn’t match the info on file wouldn’t make the correct info untrue/inaccurate & the only thing that has been verified is that a problem exists.
    – Papa Poule
    Apr 27, 2016 at 18:04
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The scripts they use are written by hacks who get paid according to the weight of the words they use. "Verify" is more ponderous than "state", and much more so than "tell me", so that's what goes into the script. When I am asked to identify myself in a face-to-face exchange, I often say something like "I am sure this is me", which usually elicits an amended request.

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From Oxford dictionary online:

verify

1 Make sure or demonstrate that (something) is true, accurate, or justified

When you state your full name, address or other information stored in a database (presumably because you previously provided it) are you not "demonstrating" that this information is "true or accurate"?

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  • Thanks for your answer. I understand what the intended course of the transaction is when they ask the question, I am just trying to understand if I know the correct meaning of the word "verify". I suppose this new usage of the word could become one of the definitions over time.; Apr 26, 2016 at 19:03
  • @PhilippNagel It looks like that's happened, since that is in the dictionary already.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 27, 2016 at 9:05

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