English English language Etymology Expression Phrase origin Usage Word origin Writing

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.”

These media types have turned the phrase “by courtesy of” (that is, “provided as a favor by”) into a verb meaning “to give credit for”—a usage that hasn’t made it into standard dictionaries.

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.

“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].”

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