Vo­cab

Friday - - Mind Games -

Many distin­guished guests were present when the new In­dian prime min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi, took the oath of of­fice re­cently. If we are to be­lieve the news­pa­pers, not one of those guests re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion. Let me has­ten to clar­ify. I didn’t mean to im­ply that these em­i­nent per­son­ages were one merry band of gate­crash­ers, only that (ac­cord­ing to re­ports) each one of them re­ceived not an ‘in­vi­ta­tion’, but an ‘in­vite’.

Like most other ‘nouned’ verbs, ‘in­vite’ joins a long list of words that in­spire re­sponses rang­ing from rage and an­noy­ance to bland ac­cep­tance. “That’s just how people talk now,” said a young ac­quain­tance, im­ply­ing that I, like oth­ers who are stick­lers for cor­rect word us­age, was a fuddy-duddy.

Al­though there is good cause to ar­gue against the use of ‘in­vite’ as a noun – mainly that we al­ready have ‘in­vi­ta­tion’, a per­fectly good word – and how­ever much it grates on the ear, the as­sump­tion that this is a re­cent de­vel­op­ment is sim­ply wrong. A lit­tle dig­ging into the an­tecedents of ‘in­vite’ turned up the sur­pris­ing rev­e­la­tion (not ‘re­veal’, please note) that the word made its first ap­pear­ance as a noun way back in the mid-17th century.

Two ex­am­ples listed in the ven­er­a­ble Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary: “1659 H. L’ES­TRANGE Al­liance Div. Off. 326 Bishop Cran­mer... gives him an earnest in­vite to Eng­land” and “1818 LADY MOR­GAN Au­to­biog. (1859) 39 We have re­fused two in­vites for to-day. Ibid. 292 For Mon­day we have had three din­ner in­vites.”

Additional ex­am­ples from the early 19th century on­ward are eas­ily found. The word might be marginally more com­mon in the last few years be­cause of the ten­dency to­ward brevity in so­cial me­dia and text mes­sag­ing, but it is far from new.

Of course, while ‘in­vite’ as a noun is sanc­tioned by his­tor­i­cal us­age, some people still con­sider it in­for­mal or even in­cor­rect, so the more for­mal-sound­ing ‘in­vi­ta­tion’ is the safer choice where you need to be taken se­ri­ously. The prej­u­dice against ‘in­vite’ might be based on mis­taken as­sump­tions, yet we can’t ig­nore it.

The gu­rus blog­ging at www. gram­marist.com add an additional bit of in­for­ma­tion that is in­trigu­ing; if they are to be be­lieved, ‘in­vite’ as a noun is pro­nounced dif­fer­ently from the verb. The verb is in-VITE, while the noun has the ac­cent on the first syl­la­ble –IN-vite. Dear reader, your call.

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