The Grammarphobia Blog

Response ability

Q: Have you ever discussed “RSVP”? It has come to be a noun meaning a reservation as well as a verb meaning to respond. As you know, it really stands for “Répondez, s’il vous plaît,” or “Please respond.” Nowadays I’m always seeing “Send your RSVP” or “Please RSVP.” This one is a lost cause, I know, but you aren’t afraid of lost causes.

A: The “Send your RSVP” and “Please RSVP” usages are so common now that I think they’re here to stay. In fact, the verb is now accepted in some dictionaries.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) lists only one definition for “RSVP”: please reply. But Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) also defines it as a verb meaning to respond to an invitation. Merriam-Webster’s dates the verb usage to 1953.

The Oxford English Dictionary also includes the verb usage. The dictionary has two published references, one in a 1969 novel and the other in a 1978 article in the Observer newspaper.

Here’s the earlier OED citation, from Next Time I’ll Pay My Own Fare, by Raymond Vernon Beste: “The Duchess de Santine Miorna requests the pleasure of Detective-Inspector John Gage’s company to dinner tonight … R.S.V.P. … Gage R.S.V.Ped in Spanish.”

So, the verb usage isn’t all that new. I’ll keep my eyes open for more about “RSVP.” If I learn anything else (or even if I don’t), I may mention this on the radio show.

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