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An uncommon courtesy

Q: “Courtesy” as a verb? This is from a local Fox News employee in Austin, TX: “We would courtesy you.”

A: It’s not just Fox News in Austin. We’ve found many examples of the identical wording from broadcasters around the country in offering people credit for using their online videos.

Here’s a request by an assignment editor at KTLA News in Los Angeles for consent to use a rock-climbing video on Facebook:

“I am writing to request permission to use your video ‘The Dawn Wall Push Day 08’ in our newscast. we would courtesy you.”

And here’s a request from NY1 News in New York City on a website about Yaks: “We are seeking permission to use this video during a news piece on Yak Meat. We would courtesy you of course.”

This example on Twitter is from a sports producer at a Fox station in Oakland, CA: “Can we use your Mark Davis sound on air and social media. We would courtesy you.”

Finally, the ESPN assignment desk added this comment to a YouTube video of someone doing a backflip over water on a modified snowmobile:

“ESPN would like permission to use this video on our TV and web platforms. We would courtesy you if approved.”

A media executive who reads our blog informs us that “courtesy you” is shorthand in the media business for “provide you with a courtesy credit.” As he explains, a courtesy credit in television “is one that is not contractually mandated, as when material is licensed for a fee (say, from Getty Images).”

“Sometimes a credit will read ‘by courtesy of’ in connection with licensed material for stylistic reasons, as when a producer wants to emphasize that the material was used in a friendly manner,” he says. “But generally, a ‘courtesy credit’ is one which a producer or broadcaster has no obligation to provide.”

In programming covered by one of the guilds, such as the Screen Actors, Directors, or Writers Guilds, there are explicit crediting provisions, he says. But for “non-guild programming (much of ‘non-scripted’ basic cable), credits are more discretionary: there are certain credits established by contract (executive producers, for instance or high-level talent) which must be included on a program, and certain credits established simply by custom (production or network personnel), which are considered expendable.”

“Since non-tabloid news programming frequently has a policy of not paying sources, the courtesy credit is provided in lieu of compensation, as an inducement to provide the material,” he writes.  “Without seeing the actual licenses, this latter arrangement is how I’d interpret all the examples cited in your post. And, since for any contract to be valid, it must contain the phrase ‘for good and valuable consideration, receipt of which is hereby acknowledged,’ the ‘valuable consideration’ offered and received here is publicity. Which, for some people, is priceless.”

The media use of “courtesy” as a verb meaning to provide a courtesy credit hasn’t made its way into the 10 standard dictionaries we regularly consult or the Oxford English Dictionary, an etymological dictionary based on historical evidence.

Interestingly, the word “courtesy” has occasionally been used over the centuries as a verb meaning to bow before a superior. (The word in this sense was later shortened to “curtsy.”)

Here’s an example from The History of Sir Charles Grandison, a 1753 novel by Samuel Richardson: “Beauchamp, in a graceful manner, bowed on her hand: She courtesied to him with an air of dignity and esteem.”

In fact, we’ve found several recent examples, including a reader comment last month on the website of the Sunday Express that criticized Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, for curtsying before Queen Elizabeth II:

May courtesied? Disgraceful. No human is superior to another, certainly not by an accident of birth.”

As it turns out, “courtesy” (and “curtsy”) is related to “courtesan,” “cohort,” and “court,” according to John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins. All are ultimately derived from cohors, classical Latin for an enclosed yard. [Update: we wrote more extensively on the history and the various meanings of “court” in 2020.]

“By extension it came to stand for those assembled in such a yard—a crowd of attendants or company of soldiers; hence the meaning of cohort familiar today,” Ayto writes.

He traces the judicial sense of “court” to “an early association of Old French cort [a judicial tribunal] with Latin curia [a legal tribunal or sovereign’s assembly].”

[Note: This post was updated on Feb. 26, 2020.]

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