Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be

At least not until you’re sure which one’s which. I often think about the two words to lend and to borrow, and how even native speakers often get them mixed up, even though they’re opposites.

Can I lend a pen from you?

Can you borrow me your pen?

I’ve often wondered why people would get them mixed up. But then these aren’t the only pair of opposites that are surprisingly close in the English language.

While writing a little about the word to have recently, I noticed that it shared an etymology, way back, with the word to give. Both can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root *ghabh, which could mean to give or to receive.

They’re complete opposites: how could one word mean both? But then, as in the case of to learn and to teach, there are other examples like this across different languages. And thinking about it a little, it does start to make sense.

First of all, there’s the old cliché that opposites can only really exist in contrast to each other. But more than that, what we consider opposites are also often the same thing. If you give something, someone always receives it. The same with borrowing and lending. In these cases only one action, a transfer, is occuring. The verb pairs aren’t describing different actions: they’re referring to the same action from different perspectives.

And teaching and learning aren’t so different either: sometimes the best teaching involves giving learners the space and a path to teach themselves.

Still though, if you owe someone money, don’t expect the old you know, borrowing and lending are just two sides of the same coin trick to work.

3 thoughts on “Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be

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