Onward and upward in my quest to reduce the number of unanswered requests in my e-mail inbox. Some of them I've put off answering because the answers are long and complicated and require actual work. This one is the other kind. I've delayed answering it because I don't have any cute stories to tell about it. (Protests that none of my stories are cute should be written up in triplicate and submitted to your local authority figure.)

It comes from Paul of The Beer Card. Or, rather, it came from Paul (in March--forgive me!):
I subscribe to Bridge World, an American magazine, that exhorts its readers to 'please patronize our advertisers'. Every time I see this my instinctive reaction is to send them a sarcastic or condescending e-mail. Is this form of the verb less common in the US?

I did notice that Chambers and American Heritage Dictionary give the meanings in reverse order.
Points to Paul for the dictionary research!

Rather than saying that the 'condescend' sense of patroni{s/z}e is less common in AmE, I'd venture that the 'give financial support to' sense is more common in AmE than in BrE. One reads the please patronize our advertisers/sponsors admonition often in the newsletters of small organi{s/z}ations--charities, churches and the like--whose advertisers are typically small businesses with small advertising budgets. But since patroni{s/z}e is ambiguous (and probably also because it's a 'hard' word), one more often sees please support our advertisers/sponsors-- about four times more often with advertisers and 40 times more often with sponsors, if we can take the Google results as representative.

Trying to test this out further on Google, one is a bit hampered by the fact that Google doesn't allow for US-only searches. So, the below is a comparison of patroni{s/z}e our advertisers on the web in general versus the UK:

patronise our advertisers124
patronize our advertisers180,700

As opposed to support, which is seen more in the UK.

support our advertisers12,200323,000

In other words, a site that exhorts you to support advertisers has a 3.7% chance of being a UK-based site (at least as far as Google can tell), whereas a site that encourages you to patroni{s/z}e advertisers has only a .002% chance of being UK-based. So, since BrE readers are less likely to have come across this use of patroni{s/z}e regularly, it's more likely to strike them as odd, and to bring up the other possible meaning, as is Paul's experience. AmE readers, on the other hand, are more accustomed to relying on the object of the verb (in this case advertisers/sponsors) to tell them that it's probably the 'financially support' sense and not the 'condescend' sense that's intended. We (all dialects) do that kind of thing all the time. For instance, we know that different senses of book are at play if a police officer books a massage therapist or books a suspect. (Of course, we can overcome those interpretations with more context--the officer could book a massage therapist for assault or book a suspect (who happens to be a clown) for his daughter's birthday party. But I just raise this example to defend myself against the hordes who might claim that AmE is irresponsible for having a verb with two senses. Most verbs have at least that many!)

Postscript, later that evening: Describing this entry to my friend the Poet this evening, I reali{s/z}ed, of course, that the two senses are not so confusing in speech. For the 'condescend' meaning I (and Better Half, so maybe this is universal) pronounce the first syllable like the word pat, and for the 'financially support' sense, I pronounce it with the same vowel as in pay. The Concise Oxford (what I have at home) only lists the pat pronunciation. American Heritage lists both, starting with pay, but doesn't specify that they go with different senses. Do you have two pronunciations, and are they sense-specific?


  1. Also, people who visit libraries are "patrons". Do they say that in the UK?

  2. Jolly well explained, dear lady. A really super effort.

  3. Oh, stop patroni{s/z}ing me, dearieme! (But feel free to patroni{s/z}e the blog.)

    A librarian will have to answer canadian's question...

  4. I am one of many who(m?) give their patronage to the buses.

  5. Errr, while pat- doesn't sound odd, I seem to be more pay-. Also for the condescending kind.

  6. I find it somewhat ironic that Patron and Client have come to have pretty much the same meaning, as far as shoppers/customers/users are concerned.

    In Rome they were two opposite ends of the spectrum.

  7. Dialog(ue) from "Cheers":
    Sam: Thank you for patronizing me.
    Frasier: You mean, "thank you for your patronage."
    Sam: What's the difference?
    Frasier: "Patronage" is what customers give; "patronizing" is talking to someone as though he were a small child.
    Sam: Like you're talking to me now?
    Frasier: Exactly!

  8. It is correct that, in the US, at least, the American Library Assn. officially refers to library users as 'patrons' patronizing the library. Library school students are indoctrinated into this use, and many libraries still use it.

  9. Come to think of it, "condescending" has an older meaning too.

  10. American here -- I pronounce "patronize" with a "pay" and find that when Americans pronounce it with a "pat" they sound either like they're trying to imitate the British, or it's that they learned the word from a book and never actually heard anyone say it out loud.

    Sort of like last week I took a business course and the teacher pronounced "taciturn" as "tack-iturn." Ugh.

  11. Dr Roche, I know it is used in North America (I am a librarian and in fact have "seen" you on listservs before) but I was wondering about Britain. In any case, trendy library managers here are moving away from "patrons" and opting for "clients" instead (which I dislike).

  12. Yes, 'clients' is bad form, though better than 'customers'. Librarians on either side of the pond tend to be from more upper-middle class backgrounds than public (American English) school teachers, and the use of patron seems to reflect that. It is not a word in common workaday use in America today, and I expect not in Canada as well. I do not know about Britain, but language use is even more class-controlled there, as far as I know.

  13. I use both pronunciations, and upon reflection, I believe I use them interchangeably. (Although my first reaction was that I used a different pronunciation for each meaning.)

  14. As a UK academic librarian I would say that neither patron nor client are used. I would use borrowers, perhaps users (although I don't really like that last one personally). The 'student' borrowers definitely think of themselves as customers though, as they now pay fees! And boy are they keen to tell you about it.

  15. (AmE) I would understand patronize to mean use/shop in when it refers to a place. It seems like I would actually have to physically go into such a place (but not necessarily buy anything) to say I am patronizing it. The metaphor doesn't extend to, for example, online retailers, at least for me. I would understand it to mean "condescend" when it refers to a person. Since advertisers in a magazine are neither places nor people (though they might represent places or people) I would find this usage odd.

  16. I'm from the US, and I'm more likely to say pay- for both senses of the word. Pat- doesn't sound wrong, but I'd only use it to mean condescending.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)