Once more vnto the Breach

« previous post | next post »

A comment on a recent post:

In reference to: This ties in perfectly with the recent post entitled "Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese" in two ways:

Entitled is incorrect. TITLED is correct.

Unless the letters are "entitled" to an ice cream cone. :)

This is nonsense, as usual asserted confidently without any evidence. Given LLOG's reputation, it's probably a trolling attempt — but I'll bite anyhow, since some of our readers may have been bullied in similar fashion.

For hundreds of years, "entitled X" has been used by elite writers of standard English to mean "bearing the title X". For example, James Boswell wrote in his Life of Samuel Johnson:

Mr. Thomas Warton made this remark to me; and, in support of it, quoted from the poem entitled The Bastard, a line, in which the fancied superiority of one 'stamped in Nature's mint with extasy,' is contrasted with a regular lawful descendant of some great and ancient family.

or again:

The celebrated Dr. Hugh Blair, and his cousin Mr. George Bannatine, when students in divinity, wrote a poem, entitled The Resurrection, copies of which were handed about in manuscript.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Biographia Literaria:

Many, who had allowed no merit to my other poems, whether printed or manuscript, and who have frankly told me as much, uniformly made an exception in favour of the Christabel and the Poem, entitled Love .

Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing about Thoreau:

His poem entitled "Sympathy" reveals the tenderness under that triple steel of stoicism, and the intellectual subtilty it could animate.

William Hazlitt, in The Spirit of the Age:

We might allude in particular, for examples of what we mean, to the lines on a Picture by Claude Lorraine, and to the exquisite poem, entitled Laodamia.

Going back to the 15th century, the OED cites Caxton on Cato:

This book..ought to be entytled the reule and gouernement of the body and of the sowle.

And among hundreds of thousands of authoritative uses in the 20th century, we have e.g. the citation Quirk, Randolph, and Henry George Widdowson, eds. English in the World: Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures: Papers of an International Conference Entitled "Progress in English Studies" Held in London, 17-21 September 1984 to Celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the British Council and Its Contribution to the Field of English Studies Over Fifty Years. Cambridge University Press for the British Council, 1985.



  1. Levantine said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    Interestingly, I've encountered the opposite "correction", with "entitled" being held up as the better and more standard choice.

    [(myl) A comparison of ngram counts for sequences like "book entitled/titled" suggests that "titled" was not used much in this sense until the middle of the 20th century — and is still the minority usage, by a large factor:


  2. Victoria Simmons said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

    So maybe not a good time to say that the Shakespeare quotation is "Once more unto the breach," rather than 'into'? Although 'into' is clearly more natural contemporary usage.

    No issues with 'entitled,' though!

    (Geoff N) Whatever the preposition, I like to think Mark was alluding the final words of the lines: "We'll close the wall up with our English dead."

    [(myl) Fixed now.]

  3. Victoria Simmons said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

    The White Knight, of course, gets by without either 'titled' or 'entitled':

    "The name of the song is called 'Haddocks' Eyes.'"

    "Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.

    "No, you don't understand," the Knight said, looking a little vexed. "That's what the name is called. The name really is 'The Aged Aged Man.'"

    "Then I ought to have said 'That's what the song is called'?"Alice corrected herself.

    "No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called 'Ways and Means': but that's only what it's called, you know!"

    "Well, what is the song, then?" said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

    'I was coming to that,' the Knight said. 'The song really is "A-sitting On a Gate": and the tune's my own invention.'

    I've always been fond of that passage, but all the more so since I began teaching and find that so many of my students like the construction "the title is called."

  4. Scott W said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

    The United States Congress, in its early years, preferred "entitled" (often spelled "entituled") when referring to previous legislation, as in "the act, entituled 'An act to regulate such and such'". Surely the United States Congress can't be wrong. ;)

  5. Tom S. Fox said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

    It should be noted that “entitle” comes from Late Latin “intitulare,” which also meant “to give a title to.”

  6. Stephan Stiller said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

    Oh now that is interesting that "entitled" is so much more frequent! There is one thing though that I think is often overlooked in LL posts like this one: The history of some usage is not all that important. That some expression, collocation, grammatical construction, etc was used for "hundreds of years" does not matter, because it can fall out of use. What matters is whether something is common-enough present-day usage. (And, yes, there's an obvious question of what threshold to use to determine what's "common enough". And usage can differ regionally and along other lines.) Descriptivists (and I'm certainly a descriptivist) are prescriptive too, except they care more (and are more knowledgeable) about contemporary usage and are more tolerant with others.

    There are two more things which I've been wanting to say for a long time, and now is the right moment:

    1. A lot of people are just not good at knowing what's common/majority/etc usage, or they are insecure for other reasons. They cling to prescriptions in an effort to "improve", but it's a lost cause. If the ability to notice/remember/generalize such linguistic data is missing (for whatever reason), it cannot be acquired by reading outdated style guides.

    2. I try to be tolerant of those that do not follow standard usage, while striving for majority usage myself. I also think that majority usage is what one should teach to foreign learners.

  7. Stan Carey said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

    The AP Stylebook proscribes Mark's (and Boswell's, etc.) use of entitled — at least, my 2007 edition does:

    Use it to mean a right to do or have something. Do not use it to mean titled.
    Right: She was entitled to the promotion.
    Right: The book was titled "Gone With the Wind."

    This doesn't necessarily bear on the comment in question, but an edict from the AP Stylebook is like holy writ for some people, who seem duty-bound to spread the dogma.

  8. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

    Perhaps one application of the famous Janet Malcolm quote ("Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.") would be promulgation of the peculiar norms and prejudices of the AP Stylebook?

  9. Rubrick said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

    I prefer "titrated". Some of you may feel that's the wrong word entirely. You are, of course, titled to your opinion.

  10. Brett said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

    The AP style guidelines contain a lot of good advice about how specific words are used and misused in news-making contexts. (The entry on "illegal" has good guidance for reporting on labor disputes, for example.) However, intermixed with the arbitrary spelling rules (which are legitimate for purposes of standardization) are some weird prescriptions involving usage. The one for "entitled" is one of the worst, and I remembered it immediately when I saw this post.

  11. Dick Margulis said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

    The White Knight's Tale is what came immediately to mind for me as well.

    I find either titled or entitled to be an annoying insertion in most instances, especially when someone is reviewing a book on NPR. "Bob Jones's new book, titled Mr. Jones Goes to Washington, is a blah blah blah." Why not just "Bob Jones's new book, Mr. Jones Goes to Washington, is a blah blah blah," instead? Will the White Knight run me through with his lance for confusing the book with the title of the book? I don't think so.

    Whatever the merits or demerits of Strunk & White's "omit needless words" dictum in the linguistics business, it comes in handy in the editing business. I don't think either titled or entitled adds even a bit of information.

  12. Eric P Smith said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

    @Victoria Simmons

    "And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace"

    I don't care what his name is called. I'm waiting to hear what they call the kid.

  13. Lawrence said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

    In this instance, I suspect the AP mandate has far less to do with questions of meaning or grammaticality, and far more to do with the pathological journalistic fear of length. If one can trim two whole characters by saying "titled" rather than "entitled," one should do so in all possible cases. In that regard, it's not even bad advice, since "titled" is (now) a common-enough usage not to cause confusion. But a newspaper's house style does not a grammar make.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

    What are we to make of these numbers, folks?

    "once more into the breach" 837,000 ghits (despite the fact that Google asks you if you really want to search for the following item)

    "once more unto the breach" 241,000 ghits

    "once more into the fray" 1,360,000 ghits

    "once more unto the fray" 28,300 ghits

  15. Victor Mair said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

    Which do you prefer?

    1. This ties in perfectly with the recent post entitled "Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese" in two ways….

    2. This ties in perfectly with the recent post titled "Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese" in two ways….

    3. This ties in perfectly with the recent post "Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese" in two ways….

  16. dw said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

    I wonder whether the (I presume recent) negative sense of "entitled", defined by Urban Dictionary as an attitude, demeanor, or air of rudeness, ingraciousness, or combativeness, especially when making excessive demands for service, has affected the potency of this peeve.

  17. James said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

    I prefer (1), but if the title were short I'd prefer the schema in (3), thus:

    This ties in perfectly with the recent post "Chinese Tea" in two ways….

  18. David Morris said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

    As an ESL teacher, I often say "Keep it short and simple". My preferences, and my advice to students, would be (3) and (2) above, in that order, without asserting that (1) is "wrong".
    The other issue for me is "division of labour". "Entitled" and "titled" can both be used for books and poems, while only "entitled" can be used for "a sense of deservingness".

    [(myl) On the other hand, only titled can be used for "having a title of rank", as in "the younger scion of a titled family".]

  19. Martha said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 10:24 pm

    Am I the only one who has a slight meaning difference between "entitled" and "titled"? I've always thought of "entitled" as meaning "having been given the title" and "titled" meaning "having the title." Sort of like entrusted/trusted.

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 10:57 pm

    Victor Mair: 3, then 2, then 1, since you ask, but I wouldn't call 1 wrong.

  21. Stephan Stiller said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

    @ David Morris

    About brevity in general: To me, brevity and "simplicity" (a rather vague notion) are subordinate to precision and richness in information. I've never been one to be brief, and people tell me I'm very effective in getting my points across.

    About brevity on the lexical/phrasal level: (a) There is no harm in preferring "titled" for oneself (or in teaching it in a class), just as there is nothing wrong with "entitled". (b) Now that I know that "entitled" is that much more frequent than "titled", I'd teach people the former, with a note that the latter is fine too. (c) I personally prefer "titled" in my own writing because for me there's a bit of cognitive interference from "to be entitled to" and "entitlement", even though it does not give rise to ambiguity in practice. (d) For Victor Mair's (1-3), there is no difference in meaning or in the degree of ambiguity. (Let's remember that verbosity can have disambiguating function. I often write "in order to" instead of "to" for that reason.) (e) I really don't see a point in trying hard to save a word or a few letters here and there. It's not like the choice of lexical item or syntactic construction matters particularly much; it's more that worrying about such things takes away time better spent on other things.

  22. D.O. said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 11:03 pm

    Re: Victor Mair, 5:40pm. Google counts are notoriously unreliable, especially when searches are done over multiple word phrases. There was an extensive discussion here at LLog, but I'm too lazy to search for refs.

    BTW, why is it considered OK in the polite society to correct other people's usage? It would be an interesting experiment if someone made an electronic stamp "Rude" (like this one) and just over-imposed it on such comments.

  23. Olof said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 12:04 am

    Oddly, I have no preference for 1, 2, or 3, unless, as in the original post, the title is actually a hyperlink to the post in question, in which case 3 seems much preferable.

  24. Simon P said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 12:21 am

    Is there a difference between American and British usage here? I would not be surprised if, as dw said, the meme is excecerbated, or even created, by the "Fox News" usage of 'entitled' and 'entitlement'. I'm guessing that's not as common on the British Isles, yes?

  25. Dr. Decay said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 3:42 am

    @Stephan Stiller
    When striving for majority usage, I'll concede that a 200 year history of the usage of a word may be bunk. But for those who sometimes debate with curmudgeons about how the "incorrect" use of a word like "entitled" is evidence that everything is going to hell, the historical reminders occasionally found on this blog are not only entertaining but useful.

    I, at any rate, learned something new today. Thanks.

  26. Deirdre said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 4:45 am

    Can I randomly mention a joke wot I wrote?
    Posh boy is introducing not-posh fiancee to Father.

    Father: You know, when you bury me you'll be ennobled.
    Fiancee: Yeah, but if he marries me he'll be entitled!

  27. Duncan said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 5:26 am

    @ Victor Mair @ 5:40PM: Entitled/titled/?

    I /prefer/ #1, "entitled", considering it more proper or formal, most likely due to my reading material over the decades. But I suspect I'd actually use #2, "titled" or simply #3, the bare name, in my own less formal usage, as when commenting on a blog posting or in a mailinglist or newsgroup post. In fact, I believe I've done just that at times and been slightly uncomfortable with it as it felt somehow wrong or at least more informal than I'm accustomed to, but I didn't know why. Now I do. =:^)

  28. RP said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 6:16 am

    @Scott W,
    Interestingly the OED treats "intitule" (with obsolete variant "entitule") as a separate word from "entitle", and gives the former its own pronunciation (with short "i").

  29. Victor Mair said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 6:30 am


    "Google counts are notoriously unreliable…."

    We're talking about differences in orders of magnitude, not to be sneezed at. Moreover, I did the searches repeatedly at different times to make sure that they weren't random artifacts, but always got the same results.

    I'm still curious to know what people think of the results I presented.

    [(myl) Alas, the methods that Google apparently uses to estimate the N in their statements "About N results" are so quantitatively unreliable that even an order-of-magnitude difference is not to be trusted. The fact that the algorithms come up with the same untrustworthy estimates on multiple occasions doesn't help.

    The difference that you cite is probably real — and arises because the word "unto" is obsolete, just as the First Folio's spelling of that word as "vnto" is. The proportions calculated by the Google Books Ngram Viewer are accurate (modulo the fact that they only count ngrams occurring more than a certain number of times), and tell the same story:


  30. richardelguru said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 7:20 am

    I'm thinking of writing an essay, "'Once more unto the entity entitled "The Entity"' the titled non-entity twittered, 'since we are entitled to!'" is what I'm going to call it. I can't think of a name for the titular titled non-entity though.

  31. Mar Rojo said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 11:11 am

    "Let us go unto the cinema."
    "Let us go into the cinema."

    In which case did I suggest seeing a movie?

  32. chris said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 6:56 pm

    What are we to make of these numbers, folks?

    ISTM that we should just say "'unto' is used a lot less now than it was in Shakespeare's day, so people are likely to misremember the quotation in a way that conforms to their own usage" and leave it at that. Any more elaborate hypothesis would require more complete and reliable data (in fact, I'm just using my offhand impression for the overall decline of 'unto').

  33. nqa2 said,

    June 12, 2014 @ 11:46 am

    Perhaps one application of the famous Janet Malcolm quote ("Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.") would be promulgation of the peculiar norms and prejudices of the AP Stylebook?

RSS feed for comments on this post