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Tough ask

Posted by JIllB on October 31, 2002

In Reply to: posted by R. Berg on October 31, 2002

: : : : : : :
: : : : : : : Can some body tell me, whether it is correct to say that some thing was tough ask meaning was difficult to perform?

: : : : : : Yes. "That job was tough to do." "They gave him a tough job."

: : : : :
: : : : : Tough is a perfectly acceptable adjective but "tough ask" isn't correct. "Tough ask" uses the word "ask", a verb as a noun. Adjectives modify nouns. A better choice would be "tough question", or "tough assignment".

: : : : : Now it's entirely possible that someone out there is using "tough ask" but it isn't correct, nor is it particularly clever or charming as some deliberate grammatical mistakes can be. If I heard someone using this expression I'd probably draw the conclusion that he had very poor language skills or that it was some obnoxious affectation.

: : : : Two other thoughts: you may have heard "tough task," a good description of something difficult to perform; or you may have heard a professional fundraiser speaking. In the jargon of fundraisers, an "ask" is a noun that refers to a specific need within a larger camparign, tailored to a particular audience. Thus, in a campaign to build a large hospital, the fundraising strategists might separate out the maternity wing as a separate "ask" because a charitable foundation is seen as a likely donor (i.e., the founder would want her name on that wing, and her foundation gives grants in the $7 million range) making them a good target to that ask. Like most trade jargon, it ain't good English, but it's a shared shorthand.

: : : The poster was asking: Is it correct to use "tough" as a modifier meaning "difficult to perform"? "Tough ask" = question about "tough."

: : That's plausible. The poster also asked whether some body could answer, but I think some mind might be more likely to help.

: I construed the poster's question as whether "ask" can be a noun. The Oxford English Dictionary has "ask" as an obsolete noun only; its recorded uses end in the 13th century. But it seems reasonable to me that "ask" could be a noun in a slang use and would be understood. Whether it would be acceptable depends on the context: okay in an office memo, not okay in a committee's report to the board of trustees.

I have certainly heard (southern UK 2002) 'a big ask' - meaning something that is rather a lot to request of someone. It occurred sufficiently frequently in speech this year for me to adopt it (i think only once) when talking to students, and I am quite a conservative language-user. By analogy, a 'tough ask' would also be possible, but I have never heard it.

  • Bruce Kahl 11/01/02
    • ESC 11/01/02
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