I have a question about the usage of "adopt":

article 1
Grumman's F9F Panther was adopted by the U.S. Navy as their primary jet fighter in the Korean War period, and it was one of the first jet fighters to employ an afterburner.

article 2
Some FYE Instructors and other course instructors adopt the book for their course for the semester. It is not an expectation of FYE instructors to adopt the book as part of the class.

I checked a dictionary, which has this definition for "adopt":

def 2a: to begin to use or have (a different manner, method, etc.)

which suggests that one can adopt a method, but has no mention of adopting a fighter jet or adopting a book.

So, are the examples wrong? Could it be that the authors of the articles meant to write "adapt" (meaning "modify"), but accidentally used "adopt"?

  • One can indeed adopt a method and the examples are correct. Nice question. – Mick Oct 1 '16 at 20:07

One can indeed adopt a method and the examples are correct. In the case of the US Navy's fighter planes, adopt means to create an official program for their use, rather than to just buy one or two test aircraft. The case for the course books is the same. The books are adopted for general use instead of just having a few copies for evaluation.

In the UK, local councils will adopt privately owned roads and assume responsibility for their upkeep. The residents, of course, are charged higher taxes since they no longer have to pay for maintenance. Privately owned roads (for which the public have right of way) have street signs saying "unadopted".

  • This is an interesting question: it illustrates the "evolution" of the use of the verb. Even the OED contains no examples of this usage, which might be defined as to formally approve or ratify sth as fit for a given use or purpose; usually by an organization. In the U.S. too, local NGO's will adopt a road, often by sending crews to collect litter from the right of way. This applies to an inanimate object the OED's definition 2.f.: To make (a particular person, animal, etc.) the object of one's charitable concern, esp. as part of an organized campaign; to take up or sponsor (a cause). – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Oct 1 '16 at 20:45
  • It sounds like a letter to the editors of the OED might be in order. I shall leave the matter to your good self. – Mick Oct 1 '16 at 20:52
  • We'll leave that to brighter lights; I am but a harmless drudge. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Oct 1 '16 at 20:55
  • Is a case for course books the same thing as a book-case? I've often wondered. And what about cases for nuts? – Mick Oct 1 '16 at 20:59
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    @meatie No, not non-standard English; I would call it, instead, modern English. No reader would misunderstand those sentences, and only a very few fusspots would quibble with them. Any living language is always years ahead of its dictionaries. It's also important to remember that the inclusion of some usage examples in a dictionary does not necessarily exclude other usages. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Oct 2 '16 at 1:01

Here are some of the abstract things we can adopt:


We've been saying that we have adopted a design since the mid 18th century.

When the military adopts a particular fighter jet, they're adopting a design. Indeed, the sentence says "it was one of the first jet fighters to employ an afterburner".

When we adopt something, we make it ours, we take it unto ourselves.

  • So, if John bought a new iphone 7, I could write: "John adopted the iphone 7"? – meatie Oct 1 '16 at 23:34
  • @TRomano ...but what about OP's second example: course instructors adopt the book...? Nothing abstract or conceptual there that I can see. I think the dictionaries have a wee bit of catching up to do here. It's not much of a leap from adopting a design to adopting a physical manifestation of that design, and usage is always ahead of dictionaries—we can't put lexicographers out of work, can we? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Oct 2 '16 at 0:59
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    @meatie: A company could adopt the iPhone as the mobile phone it issues to its employees, as its "mobile platform", making it "standard issue". In that sense, they're adopting the design or the model. John Q. Public could have been an early-adopter of the iPhone, but I would not say that a person has adopted the iPhone, no. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 2 '16 at 1:26
  • @P.E. Dant: A textbook is adopted for an academic course usually because it has been evaluated against certain criteria, analogous to the adoption of a particular fighter jet design by the military. There is an underlying idea of selection after careful evaluation. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 2 '16 at 1:30
  • I agree that using adopt to describe an individual's purchase (as in OP's comment) is a stretch, but I do think the verb is moving away from the strictly abstract; course instructors adopt the book is a good example. Even the OED doesn't have an example of such a usage. It won't surprise me to see 9. to formally approve or ratify sth as fit for a given use or purpose; usually by an organization in a future edition, with no mention of evaluation against criteria. It's an interesting question. I'll bet we could find other examples of such "drift" if we looked for them. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Oct 2 '16 at 1:43

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