At Michael Rosen Says…, I listen to my readers. And, I even sometimes take requests.
Recently, I received an email from Anton Wishik, a professional editor who recently transitioned to the development world. I thank him for the message. He wanted to know why I insist on using the word “ask” as a noun.
The inquiry caught my attention for a number reasons:
1. As a former newspaper editor, the proper use of language continues to matter to me.
2. According to the good folks at Merriam-Webster, the word “ask” is indeed a verb, not a noun. So, Mr. Wishik has a valid point.
3. Mr. Wishik’s inquiry gives me the chance to write about one of my favorite topics: The “ask.” (Ooops, there I go again.)
With his permission, here is the email I received from Mr. Wishik:
As a longtime editor who just recently started working in the planned giving industry, I cringe at the use of the word ‘ask’ as a noun, which I had never seen/heard before. So do many other writing professionals; here’s one comment made at Merriam-Webster’s site: Marianna Zhabokritsky · Court Reporter at Ministry of the Attorney General (Ontario), ‘So ‘ask’ is now being used as a noun? …. Please tell me that it is still considered to be an improper use of the English language! Highly irritating!’
I’m not a stuffy editor and I realize fully that the language is constantly evolving, with new words joining the lexicon almost daily. I’m not even saying that ‘ask’ shouldn’t officially join the language as a noun, much like ‘tell’ has come into wide usage as a noun from poker. Maybe the words ‘request,’ ‘query,’ or ‘solicitation’ don’t quite describe the action taken by a [Planned Giving Officer].
I see that you use ‘ask’ as a noun, and I’m sure you have an opinion on the subject — and thought you might want to blog about it!”
Well, as I’ve said, I’m happy to take requests from time to time.
To help me explore the issue of “ask” as a noun, I’ve enlisted my good friend Laura Fredricks, author of the best-selling book The Ask and the new e-book Winning Words for Raising Money. Here is what Laura had to say:
It is so common that when anyone wants anything in life…they ‘ask.’ We have grown up to ask, politely, for what we want. We don’t ‘request’ we ‘ask.’
Taking this to our professional fundraising level, we have taken the ‘ASK’ to a sophisticated level. Asking for money takes organization, structure, focus and follow up. Comparing our ‘ask’ to a ‘request,’ ‘ask’ wins hands down because it has more impact and meaning. A ‘request’ is fleeting but an ‘ask’ has presence and attention. The person being asked knows that an important decision is about to be made.”
I agree with Laura. When a development or sales professional puts forth an “ask,” he or she has already done a great deal of work. The prospect has been identified, educated and cultivated. The professional has evaluated the prospect’s situation and has determined the most appropriate thing to ask for.
For their part, prospects usually understand that the “ask” will likely lead to some type of negotiation rather than a simple yes/no conclusion.
The noun “ask” implies more than just the sentence making the “ask.” It refers to the sentence and everything that has led up to it.
In development, we ask for donations. So, it seems silly to me to use a word that is different from the verb when we need a noun. When we talk about the act of asking for a donation, we are talking about the “ask” not the “request” or the “query.”