Can the word provenance be used in reference to a person, or should it only be used for objects?
For example, would it be improper to ask someone for their provenance?
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Dictionary definitions usually restrict the association of 'provenance' to [inanimate] things:
provenance [noun]: the place of origin or earliest known history of something.
- an orange rug of Iranian provenance
the beginning of something's existence; something's origin.
- they try to understand the whole universe, its provenance and fate" a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality.
- the manuscript has a distinguished provenance
provenance [variable noun] [plural where appropriate, provenances] [formal]
The provenance of something is the place that it comes from or that it originally came from.
- Kato was fully aware of the provenance of these treasures. [+ of]
- He had no idea of its provenance.
provenance: ... 2: the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature
However, it is not unusual to speak of a valued animal's provenance:
- Tracking and recording a horse's provenance makes these ... could be an offence not to have registered your horse's provenance with an approved ...
And Merriam-Webster (op cit) licenses the broadening to cover associations, committees etc:
- Self- serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. [Caitlin Huston, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Sep. 2023]
But applying the term to individual persons could be quirky, tongue-in-cheek – or rarefied – and could even be seen as insulting. Google 2-grams for 'his provenance' and 'her provenance' show that these are very much less commonly used than 'its provenance':
So asking a stranger for their provenance is not recommended.