1. Which semantic shift is this? I'd guess Metonymy, as the money represents the graciousness?

Meaning "money given for favor or services" is first attested 1530s.

  1. I don't know why, but I still can't understand why the graciousness would be metonymized by 'gratuity', which feels farfetched, faraway from the key semantic notion of 'money'. Why didn't some noun more straightforwardly related to 'money', metonymize the graciousness?
  • Hi; you've got the direction of shift in meaning reversed between the title and the body. Which direction did you mean? – Spencer Oct 20 '18 at 14:44
  • A textual reference showing the use of "gratuity" to mean "graciousness" would also be useful. – Spencer Oct 20 '18 at 14:49
  • @Spencer: the OED has a bunch of citations in which they claim gratuity means graciousness, but looking at them, it looks to me like they might all mean generosity (which was one of its meanings in French when we borrowed the word from them). – Peter Shor Oct 20 '18 at 16:26
  • @PeterShor More like, had the word (and other foreign words like "beef") forced on us by the Normans, but I digress. – Spencer Oct 20 '18 at 16:42

It didn't. The word originally came from French gratuit, which meant free (of charge). So a gratuity is something you give freely, when you actually don't have to (not really true anymore, because now it's expected, but a completely understandable semantic shift).

Both grace and gratuity came from the same root in Latin, which meant grace or thankfulness, but there was no shift from gracious to free. And the shift from thankfulness to gratuity is perfectly understandable. Going from thankfulness to a gift given because you are thankful would be metonymy.

The real question is why people started using it to mean graciousness in English, a meaning which it seems not to have had in French when we borrowed it (le Dictionnaire du Moyen Français says it meant gift or generosity), and which has since died out. My guess is that they recognized the Latin root gratia, one of whose meanings was grace.

  • It would be interesting to explore how gratuitous came to mean "uncalled-for," "unnecessary," or "unwarranted." – Robusto Oct 20 '18 at 13:58
  • @Robusto At a guess, it’s because gratuitous comments add nothing of value. – Lawrence Oct 20 '18 at 14:47
  • @Robusto: If something is "uncalled-for," "unnecessary," or "unwarranted," it's generally true that the giver doesn't actually have to give it. (Unlike, say, a punch in the face when somebody calls you a liar, which according to some archaic codes of honor, might be something you have to give.) – Peter Shor Oct 25 '18 at 22:45

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