Patron and Patronize

background image 207

Someone in my Facebook feed posted this about an aging celebrity who has recently published a book: “Don’t buy her books and don’t patron her movies.”

I’d never seen patron used as a verb. Patronize is the verb commonly used to mean: “to frequent or support as a customer.” For example:

I have patronized The Brown Derby since its inception and have always found the food to be second-to-none.

A Web search turned up many examples of the unconventional use of patron in this sense. Here are two examples:

The owner is very racist and I REFUSE to patron this place. 

My wife and I refuse to patron movie theaters on Thanksgiving or Christmas. 

Not surprisingly, the most common source of this nonstandard use of patron is social media.

What did surprise me is that I found patron used as a verb in some British news sources. It was, however, used in the context of a well-known person agreeing to act as spokesman for a nonprofit enterprise:

Lambeth Palace told The Times: “Since taking office in March this year, the Archbishop has received many kind invitations to patron a large variety of charities and good causes. –The Telegraph.

Celebrity Piers Morgan to patron cat rescue centre –Bristol Post

The prince has also agreed to patron Daresbury’s sister site at Harwell, Oxfordshire. –Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News.

The noun patron derives from pater, the Latin word for father. In Latin society, a patron was a protector, someone who looked after the well-being of a former slave or other dependent. The feminine form was patrona. (A matrona was simply “a married woman.”)

The earliest documentation in the OED of the verb patronize to mean, “to act as a patron towards” is dated 1593. The use of patron with this meaning has three 17th century citations, and one by Dickens in the 19th. (The use by Dickens is probably meant to be humorous: “Why am I to be Patroned and Patronessed as if the Patrons and Patronesses treated me?”)

The first modern citation for patron used as a verb to mean “act as patron” is dated 1954, and this use is still rare even in Britain. In my unscientific browsing of British newspapers, I found that constructions like “agreed to serve as patron” outnumber constructions like “agreed to patron.”

In addition to its meanings of “protection and support,” patronize has acquired a negative connotation. Human nature being what it is, the beneficial act of patronizing a good cause is often accompanied by an overt attitude that the donor is superior to the recipient. As a result, “to patronize” has become a synonym for “to condescend.”

condescend (verb): to assume an air of superiority (as to one inferior or less fortunate)

Here are some examples of patronize in this sense:

How do you feel when people patronize your religion?

Candidate In Iowa Makes Patronizing & Offensive Comments About Women Voters

“Don’t patronize me,” she said heatedly. “I’m not one of your witless lady friends.”

Patron as a verb meaning, “serve as a spokesperson for a worthy cause” may catch on. Such use would serve to distinguish the act of serving as a spokesman from the less altruistic meanings of patronize.

On the other hand, patronize is just one of many English words that have different meanings according to context. It’s the sort of thing one is expected to learn in English class.

Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

Each newsletter contains a writing tip, word of the day, and exercise!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

10 thoughts on “Patron and Patronize”

  1. You are right, Maeve: “patronize” is the verb, and otherwise you need the phrases “to be a patron” and “to become a patron”.
    “What we have here is failure to communicate.” (COOL HA,ND LUKE). So many people do not know the difference between a noun and a verb, nor the difference between an abjective, an adverb, and a noun.
    You need to watch that film COOL HAND LUKE !!

  2. Thanks for another great post!

    I’ve always pronounced the two definitions of patronize differently (long A for the positive meaning vs. short A for the negative)…is there any basis to that, or is that something I just accidentally made up?

  3. In the United States, patronize always has a long “a”, as far as I know. Its division into syllables is pa-tro-nize or pa-tron-nize, with the “n” slurred between two syllables.
    Things might be different among Britons and New England Yankees.
    Excepting silent letters, syllables and words that end in vowels often end in long vowels. See Tennessee, Ohio, Oklahoma, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Italy, Germany, Hindu, Elihu. At the ends of words, “a” seems to be an exception to all this.

  4. “Ioway” is a humorous mispronunciation of Iowa. Also, I meant to mention Idaho as a word that ends with a long “o”.
    Radon and Canadian are words that contain a long “a” at the end of a syllable, just as patronize does.
    Watch out for unusual pronunciations by New Englanders, and especially New Englanders who moved to California decades ago to get into the filmmaking business. In some old movies, I wonder “What language are they speaking?” – LOL

  5. I have seen some British films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s in which characters “made speeches” at each other rather than in engaging in normal conversation. Further, one character did not even think about the previous speech before starting his own speech. Then in these speeches were odd words like “patronize” with a short “a” (pat) and other old-fashioned British pronunciations, some nearly indecipherable in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and South Africa. American films have the feature of being understandable nearly everywhere in the English-speaking world.

  6. To serve as a patron
    To act as a patron
    To be a patron
    To become a patron
    To make oneself a patron
    To set up as a patron
    To perform as a patron

    There is no need for a verb “to patron”.

  7. In American English, at least, the pronunciation should be with a long A in all cases. If for no other reason than because in the root word patron the A is long and there is no reason at all to suggest it should change when adding the suffix IZE. I can’t think of an example where the vowel form of a noun changes from short to long or vice versa due to the IZE suffix. The single, as opposed to double, T after the A reinforces the notion that the A should be long, as well. There has never been any distinction in pronunciation between the noun and the verb.

  8. Thank you, Venqax – long “a” in all cases.
    Since I have never lived there, I always wonder about exceptions for New England Yankees and New Yorkers. Also, there have been British actors and actresses in Hollywood movies, with odd pronunciations of some words.
    Canadian English is usually interchangeable with American Midwestern.

  9. My comment was meant to apply only to Standard American English. If NE or NY or any regional or social sub-dialects differ from that– and they often do– it is irrelevant to what the Standard is. If you are a NYer and say both and boat like they’re homonyms, don’t need any freagin Ls to say ahright ahready, and would rather be ova hea dan ova deya, fine. But don’t expect to be taken too seriously if you (gasp) leave the arear. Likewise, what British standards are is a separate issue (iss-you?).

  10. Elysia,
    According to Charles Elster (The Big Book of Beastly Pronunciations) “patronize” with the long a is American English; with the short a, British.

    “Odd” is in the ear of the listener. I tend to find some of the pronunciations of American actors odd.

Leave a Comment