Reader PS has written to alert us to an instructive drama unfolding at tv tropes, a wiki that is "a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction". As of about two months ago, "titular" became a forbidden word at tv tropes. The site's software now simply deletes all (new) attempted uses of that string of letters. PS explains:
This is not a Scunthorpe problem with "tit." Someone on the site (presumably site co-founder Fast Eddie) decided that "titular" is a synonym for "nominal" but not "eponymous." (I wish I had a better citation than that, but the best link I can find says that the previous discussion about using "titular" was deleted.)
In other words, contributors to tv tropes often used titular in the sense "of, relating to, or constituting a title <the titular hero of the play>" (Merriam-Webster), or "Derived from a title: the titular role in a play" (American Heritage Dictionary), or "Of or pertaining to a title or name; of the nature of or constituting a title (in various senses). titular character, title-role" (Oxford English Dictionary), or "derived from or figuring in the title of a work such as a book or movie" (Encarta), or "of, relating to, or of the nature of a title" (Collins English Dictionary). But someone with authority over that site felt deeply that this usage is deeply wrong. Perhaps this person ("Fast Eddie"?) tried to persuade contributors to change, and failed; or perhaps he or she simply intervened because of strong emotions about the question.
This little story is worth examining, because the point of usage in question is such an idiosyncratic one. The proscribed sense is listed in standard dictionaries; the OED gives citations for this sense back to 1656; the New York Times freely uses "titular character", "titular hero", etc.:
What can be conscionably revealed about the enigma of "Martin Guerre" is that the titular character, an oddball and illiterate, vanishes after an arranged marriage to Bertrande, renamed Mireille in the musical.
Years ago in the voice-recognition game Seaman, the titular character would ask for your birth date and respond by making fun of your age.
Along with Mr. Connery and Ms. Roberts, another linguistic offender was the Leprechaun, the titular character of a camp horror film.
Although many young boys read "Tom Sawyer" and wished to be the titular hero, I always wanted to be Sid.
Mr. Allen's latest film, "Midnight in Paris," uses the titular city as a backdrop for a romantic comedy with Owen Wilson (pictured) and Rachel McAdams.
So does the New Yorker:
Through the eyes of the titular soldier (nineteen but, in the words of a smitten cheerleader, “an old soul”), Fountain creates a minutely observed portrait of a society with woefully misplaced priorities. (review of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk)
Karen Allen, of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” fame, stars as an older widow who has never recovered from the titular span of time that took her young husband away. (review of A Summer Day)
The program opens with Sergio Corbucci’s “Django,” from 1966, a seminal influence on Quentin Tarantino—whose next movie, “Django Unchained,” features a titular nod—and includes such films as Giulio Petroni’s “Tepepa,” from 1969, starring Tomas Milian and Orson Welles, and many classics by Sergio Leone, such as “A Fistful of Dollars.”
Flex Mussels, reviewed by Mike Peed in this week’s Tables for Two, gives its titular bivalve lavish treatment.
Similarly The Atlantic, The Economist, etc.:
Jack and Jill, which arrives in theaters today, stars Adam Sandler as both the titular Jack and the titular Jill.
In Baron Cohen's film, much more camera time is spent with the titular tyrant than with the simple goat herder who switches places with him.
In all seven of these films, the titular superhero has been eclipsed by the colourful villains he’s been up against.
IN SOPHOCLES'S play "Philoctetes" the titular hero is abandoned on a dreary island.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage has no entry discussing possible misuse of titular, nor does Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage, nor does any other usage guide that I've checked.
Thus Fast Eddie's anti-titular animus is apparently his individual invention. Presumably he learned titular in the sense "having the title and usually the honors belonging to an office or dignity without the duties, functions, or responsibilities" (as M-W puts it), and when he first encountered the sense involved in phrases like "titular hero", "titular city", "titular bivalve", he concluded that such uses, being different and previously unknown to him, are just Wrong.
It's hard to tell exactly what happened, since the original discussion of the issue has been deleted. But from what I've read, this seems to be a pure case of Idiosyncratic Peeve Emergence. Sometimes usage peeves represent a reaction to a new linguistic development, or to a common error. But often, the offending usage is an old one, and the mistake — often based on the prejudice that correct word usage must be unambiguous — is all on the side of the person offended.
I hasten to add that the proprietors of a web site or other publication are entitled to enforce any house rules they like: APA style for footnotes; periods not to be left out of acronyms like N.A.S.A.; numbers higher than six to be set in italics; whatever. But cases like this one are generally presented as a defense of proper usage, rather than an arbitrary personal quirk or a way to ensure typographical uniformity.
"storyteller": According to Google Dictionary, one of the definitions of titular is Denoting a person or thing from whom or which the name of an artistic work or similar is taken
"The Devouring Plague": [O]f course it has that as a definition. Like I said, it's been used for so long in that way that it is in nearly every dictionary. Most dictionaries also mention that it's not recommended / proscribed to use it that way. [emphasis added]
I wonder if there are actually any dictionaries that provide a usage note for the allegedly offending sense of titular. There's no such note in M-W, AHD, Encarta, Collins, or the OED. Again, it's interesting that peevers are often so certain of themselves that they confidently invent generalizations about dictionary entries that they haven't bothered to check, suggesting that the basic motivation is not to acquire social capital but to counterfeit it.