I have been wondering why some people think that "attention payment" is an accepted phrase. The argument is that you "pay attention", therefore you can learn "attention payment". This sounds incorrect, and my original argument was that payment, in this form, is being used like something akin to a gerund. The verb "to pay" is being used as a noun. In the context of paying attention, the use of the verb is colloquial. You don't actually exchange funds -- but the concept is similar, so we use the verb to describe being attentive.

However, whenever the word "payment" is used, it appears to be used exclusively to describe the exchange of funds. I am wondering if this is correct, and if so, specifically why "attention payment" is incorrect.


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    I've never heard of "attention payment". Can you give some examples of usage that you've seen? Also, are you referring to usage in a particular region or country - English usage varies wildly across the world.
    – TrevorD
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 12:34
  • That's what I thought. Just heard it online. Specifically, is it incorrect usage? Or is it a regional thing? Commented May 15, 2016 at 12:39
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    It's the same with "pay respect(s)", but there's no *"respect(s) payment". By contrast, "pay alimony" gives the acceptable "alimony payment". So yes, the word "payment" in that kind of composite does seem to work when something tangible is being 'transferred' but not something abstract.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 12:43
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    It's not clear that it's technically incorrect. Payment means "the act of paying", and there's no reason for that definition to be limited to monetary transactions. However, the usage is not particularly idiomatic.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 12:53
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    Note also that attributive forms and ones using 'of' tend not to be as interchangeable as might be expected (this is true also with genitive 'alternatives'). Many examples are set expressions: The Sanction of the Eiger? The Shrew Taming? The Roman Empire Decline and Fall? The d'Urbervilles(') Tess? Wrath's Grapes? The Wake of Finnegans? The End of Howards? Commented May 15, 2016 at 16:13

1 Answer 1

  1. Yes, it is true that payment implies giving in cash or kind only.

Etimologically, and therefore essentially even in contemporary use, pay is to sort of "compensate" (cf. compensation as syn. of pay -- salary).

See pay on etymonline.

  1. Use of pay in "paying attention" is metaphorical and the phrase is idiomatic.

"Take Our Word for it," Issue 123, page 2:

Why do we pay attention, heed, court, and respect? We also pay visits and compliments, don't we? Well, the idea behind all of this payment is one of duty (softened from the "debt" meaning), so that you "owe" someone your attention or respect, or it is your "duty" to visit or compliment someone. A lot of the "duty" meaning has been lost so that now we say, for example, pay a visit to mean simply "visit". We first find pay used in this sense in the work of Shakespeare …

Where I have come, great clerks have purposed
To greet me with premeditated welcomes;

And in conclusion dumbly have broke off,
Not paying me a welcome.
- Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1592


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