The Grammarphobia Blog

Spending spree

Q: An insurance company I work with consistently uses “spend” as a noun in place of “spending.” I realize this is common jargon in the financial services industry, but I think it’s unacceptable slang.

A: The word “spend” is a legitimate noun meaning the spending of money or the amount of money spent, and it’s been used this way since the late 1600s.

However, “spending” is much more common, and most of the standard dictionaries we checked don’t list “spend” as a noun.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.), for example, includes “spend” as both a verb and a noun, but Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) lists it only as a verb.

None of the standard dictionaries we looked at describe the noun as slang, but we agree with you that it sounds like bureaucratic jargon.

We prefer the noun “spending,” which is much older as well as more popular. It entered English around 1000, according to published references in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here’s an example from Piers Plowman, the 14th-century allegorical poem by William Langland: “But owre spences and spendynge sprynge of a trewe wille, / Elles is al owre laboure loste.”

The earliest citation for the noun “spend” in the OED is from Israel’s Hope Encouraged, a book by John Bunyan written sometime before he died in 1688:

“What if I cannot but live upon the spend all my days, yet, if my friend will always supply my need, is it not well for me?”

Here’s a more recent example, from the Jan 16,1983, issue of a British newspaper, the  Observer: The battle for advertising spend.”

Although the OED doesn’t consider this use of “spend” slang, it does include an obsolete slang noun meaning “semen, vaginal secretion; ejaculation.”

The dictionary’s earliest example of the slang usage is from an 1879 issue of the Pearl, a short-lived magazine that was closed by the British authorities as obscene.

Here’s a head-scratcher. The OED says the verb “spend” is the source of the noun “spending.” But the dictionary has older citations for the noun than for the verb. Hmm.

The first OED citation for the verb, meaning to pay out or expend money, is from Poema Morale (circa 1175), an anonymous Middle English poem.

We’ll end with a figurative example of the verb from Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona (written in the early 1590s): “Sir, if you spend word for word with me, I shall make your wit bankrupt.”

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