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.