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The earliest known record of the aphorism “mad as a March hare,” which refers to hares’ noticeable aggression during breeding season, is in some versions of Chaucer’s 14th-century magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales. The phrase and its derivatives, including “March mad” and “March madness,” appeared intermittently through the next several centuries; perhaps the most memorable of these mentions was Lewis Carroll’s character, the March Hare, in his 1865 book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (The Hatter was also mad, but for a different reason.)
Where do the words gift and present come from? Why does English use both? We’re pretty sure it’s not just so that children can ask for toys in multiple ways …
So, let’s dig a little deeper into the histories and meanings of these two words.
I once heard that a present was something the giver chose because it was something he/she wanted the person they were presenting it to to have; while a gift was something that was given because it was something that the giftee has expressed a desire to have.
In many contexts, there is not much difference. I’d say “present” is mostly used in a practical context, when you hand someone a present on his birthday; “gift” is rather used in an abstract or formal context, as in the gift of telepathy [by supernatural powers], or a gift of land to the church. But this distinction is not at all strict; in many practical situations, they are used interchangeably. I think “present” is the more limited word. When it is used in a formal context, it is often with mild irony: “the Duchy of Burgundy was a handsome present for Maximilian to receive from a potential bride, so the Habsburgs did not need much time to decide on the target of their bribes”.
There are a number of interesting idioms and expressions that relate to the word gift. Idioms/thefreedictionery.com 2 refers to several interesting expressions and their origins seen below.
The children gave their dad a present on his birthday.
You can really get creative and use your own skills for a personalized, handmade present. One of my friends created a shadow box, which is a box-shaped pictured frame for 3D items, with special mementos from my pregnancy, such as baby shower invitations and my hospital bracelets. It was sweet and thoughtful – two factors for a perfect push present.
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