Pop quiz, hot shot! Which of these are acceptable?
(1a) I lent him my favorite toaster oven on Maundy Thursday.
(1b) I loaned him my favorite toaster oven on Maundy Thursday.
Hopefully my phrasing of the question tipped you off that this was a trick. Both are acceptable! (Hence the are in the question.) I see your furrowed brow there. No, wait, that’s my furrowed brow in the reflection of my monitor. What am I doing, saying loaned is acceptable? Everyone knows that loan is the noun and lend is the verb. And I mean everyone. Heck, even books say it’s so. You just can’t loan somebody something. That would be as perfectly absurd as saying you borrowed somebody something.
Well, despite my furrowed brow and the beliefs of all those people I cited above, it turns out that loan is a verb, at least in American English, and has been for a while. In fact, according to the OED, loan has been used as a verb since about 1200 AD. Hmm. That’s funny, because the authors who tell you that loan is not a verb say things like “Although loan is creeping into use as a verb, we like the old rule [lend=verb,loan=noun]” (Nitty-Gritty Grammar), when in fact it’s the opposite — loan is creeping out of use as a verb. Lend has pretty much taken over for verbal loan in British English, so it’s only Americans who regularly use loan as a verb anymore, and even we’re drifting inexorably toward lend.
But returning to this so-called “old rule”, is anyone else as appalled by this quote as I am? Here’s a book making a claim that is not only incorrect, but really obviously incorrect. As in, it took me one minute to look this up in the Oxford English Dictionary to realize it was wrong. I understand that this book was published in 1998, before the Internet made it quite so easy to consult the OED, but really, are you telling me that no one at this publishing house even bothered to look at what’s considered to be the most definitive dictionary of the language when editing a book about grammar? And no one bothered to look at other contemporary grammar books, such as the Columbia Guide to Standard American English , The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage , or Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage , either? As Gob Bluth would say, c’mon! I’m a stupid blogger, and I did more research in writing this stupid blogpost that makes me no money than the editors did for a book that they’re selling!
Do you see why I am so angry all the time? When I set out to do this post, I thought it was going to be short and sweet; I’d mention that loan is not a verb and then go home. I was convinced this was the case thanks to the lies the prescriptivists fed me in my younger years. And here I am, almost a quarter-century into my usage of the English language, and only now do I find out that the prescriptivists were blowing smoke. I feel betrayed. This is why I do this blog: I’m sick and tired of being fed whole-cloth lies, and it’s time to fight back.
Rhetoric aside, loan is and has for a while been an acceptable verb, just like lend. However, it should be noted, as the Columbia Guide to Standard American English points out, that there is a difference between verb loan and verb lend. Namely, loan can’t be used in figurative contexts:
(2) *Friends, Romans, countrymen: loan me your ears!
(3) *The small potted fern loans a nice organic touch to the soulless factory.
Otherwise, go ahead and use loan as a verb. Tell anyone who wants to complain that they’ll need to file a complaint 800 years in the past. I’m sure Chaucer will be receptive.
Summary: Loan is a fine verb. It’s been around as a verb since the 1200s; it’s not some new word creeping into the language that should be stopped. The only difference between the verbs loan and lend is that loan can’t be used in figurative senses. So go use loan as a verb, and when someone complains, hit them with the facts.
[p.s.: I am not the only one to have noticed this. In addition to the books I cited above, both Paul Brians's and John Lynch's websites debunk the anti-loan claims. So consider this a reminder of how good their advice is.]