Entitled: Zombie chain shift

« previous post | next post »

Where do zombies come from? As Wikipedia tells us, it all started with evil Haitian sorcerers using necromancy to create undead slaves. But then, Hollywood invented contagious zombification, originally attributed to radioactive contamination from Venus, but more recently understood to be due to human zombism virus (HZV).

As for zombie rules, all that we really know, in most cases, is where they don't come from. They're not based on observations of language use, even of formal writing by elite authors. Nor are they based on usage advice from knowledgeable authorities. Rather, these mutations in the meme pool seem to pop up spontaneously from time to time, in ordinary literate people who are heavily invested in the idea that some aspects of common usage are ignorant mistakes. Like sexual selection in genetics, prestige-based cultural selection can favor arbitrary and even maladaptive traits, and therefore zombie ideas like "no initial conjunctions", "no final prepositions", and "no split verbs" can spread through an intimidated population for no apparent reason at all.

But still, it's natural to want an explanation, even for weird pseudo-elitist fashion epidemics. So at the risk of post-hoc rationalization, I'll offer a theory about the origins of one zombie rule which came to my attention recently, the "titled not entitled" prescription.

Our story opens with a book review — Jeb Lund, "Marco Rubio's new book is full of the word 'innovation' and no actual policy innovations", The Guardian 1/13/2015 — which ends this way:

Marco Rubio's book is a work of surpassing laziness, possessed of the aimless, discursive prose of someone remembering what his original point was after concluding a digression he suddenly remembered he wanted to make. Its appeals and concessions to fact and its airy handwaving rationalizations of them read like the weightless ad-libs of someone reaching for anything to win an argument on a subject about which he studied little. It is the equivalent of someone taking his seminar class improvisations from all those mornings when professors called on him after he didn't do the reading, then converting them to one massive, incoherent year-end term paper for all his classes. Rubio will pass, just so his professors can be rid of him. But he will not be class president.

Demonstrating the ubiquity of grade inflation, Anna Marie Cox tweeted this review as "Rubio's A- term paper":

And Dan Drezner retweeted, and then Ross Douthat responded to both with "Quite a kicker for a review that could have been entitled "I Think Rubio's Book Isn't Good Because I'm a Liberal":

At that point, a bunch of (liberal?) peevers piled on, with complaints about Douthat's used of entitled:

Now, this complaint is so wrong that I used it several years ago as the poster child for prescriptivist poppycock ("Why are so many linguistic corrections incorrect", 3/3/2007):

William Safire closed out 2006 with a column entitled "Incorrections", in which he defines incorrection as "a correction that is itself incorrect".It's hard not to be affected by incorrections. Thus whenever I use entitled as I did in the previous paragraph, it reminds me of a friend who feels that the only legitimate sense of entitled is "having a rightful claim (to)". When she first incorrected me on this point, I thought that she might be right — maybe this is one of those malaprop-like substitutions that we all discover from time to time in our own version of English. But a quick check of news archives showed that entitled meaning "titled" is widespread. And the OED gives with citations from Chaucer forward, e.g.

c1381 CHAUCER Parl. Foules 30 This booke..Entitled was right thus..Tullius of the dreame of Scipion.
1888 H. MORLEY Eng. Writers III. 179 A book entitled 'De Nugis Curialium'.

It's true that in some contexts, the "rightful claim" sense is much commoner these days — it's more than 10-to-1 in the recent New York Times, for example — but I don't think that my friend generalized incorrectly from her experience. Instead, I bet that a teacher or parent once incorrected her on the same point. And the entry in MWCDEU says:

Sources as diverse as Emily Post 1927 and Bremner 1980 have expressed disapproval of using entitled to mean "titled." However, this well-established usage has been common for over 500 years and is the older of the two senses.

So I concluded my friend's objection was an incorrection, and I can continue with a clear conscience to use entitled to mean "titled" — though now I know that some people will disapprove. But how often can an eager-to-please youth resist an incorrection from a confident and respected elder?

But how did the idea arise that entitled shouldn't be used to name the title of a book or article?  One clue can be found in the time course of usage between 1900 and 2000. Here the Google Books ngram viewer and the New York Times archive show a similar pattern:

In the sequence "book (en)titled", as a proxy for all the phrases such as book/article/movie/play/piece/song etc., titled is hardly used at all before 1920, starts to rise in a significant way around 1940, and rises more rapidly after 1960. The COHA corpus shows a similar pattern — but the specific sequences "books titled" and "books entitled" are quite rare in that collection, so I've expanded the search to the pattern [n*] titled and [n*] entitled, where [n*] means "NOUN". This patterns finds some cases with the wrong meaning, like "seniors entitled to", but the results are roughly what we want, with the difference that titled now gets up to about 56% mind-share, as opposed to 24% (GNG) and 17% (NYT).

Why this change? There's a clue in a post from a couple of years ago about changes in the frequency and the connotations of entitlement ("Entitlement", 10/6/2012).  Although the core sense of entitle (as "to furnish a person with a rightful claim to a possession, privilege, designation, mode of treatment, etc.") has been around since the 16th century, the nominalization entitlement was rare until recently:

Entitlement may have been applied to depression-era government programs like social security, and it certainly was applied to post-WWII G.I. Bill benefits, and to 1960s Great Society programs. Also in the 1960s, psychoanalysts began using entitled and entitlement with strongly negative connotations, as in the term of art "narcissistic entitlement".  (See the 2012 post for examples.)

So I hypothesize that as the word entitled grew more strongly associated with these emergent (and often negatively-evaluated) senses, some unconscious pressure arose to avoid using it in the traditional "book/song/play/movie/… entitled whatever" frame. This same conflict made people more susceptible to inventing or accepting a zombie rule elevating that reluctance to the status of a Law of Usage.

If this idea is true, it would be a kind of Zombie chain shift.

Here are the counts from the NYT archive, which I list because it takes 18 queries to get them:

 Time Period   "book titled"   "book entitled"   % titled 
 1851-1869 1 2401 0.04%
 1870-1889  0  3116  0.00%
 1890-1909  3  6803  0.04%
 1910-1929  6  6884  0.09%
 1930-1949  96  6690  1.41%
 1950-1969  265  5120  4.92%
 1970-1989  382 5310  6.71%
 1990-2009  637  3083  17.12%
 2010-2014  231  863  21.12%


As evidence that the NYT is indeed a lagging indicator of this particular stylistic shift, here's a table of results from LexisNexis newspaper search for "a/an ___ (en)titled". (The columns headed "en-" are instances of e.g. "a book entitled", spelled that way to make the table fit in the available space.)

"book" "article" "film" "movie"
en- titled %titled en- titled %titled en- titled %titled en- titled %titled
1980-1989 650 479 42.4% 419 236 36.0% 51 61 54.5% 20 52 72.2%
1990-1999 2107 2194 51.0% 1251 917 42.4% 154 166 51.9% 63 141 69.1%
2000-2004 1891 1949 50.8% 921 856 48.2% 175 156 47.1% 56 147 72.4%
2005-2007 1598 2398 60.0% 1134 1921 62.9% 132 153 53.7% 56 173 75.5%
2008-2010 2052 2707 56.9% 1249 1334 51.6% 220 331 60.1% 45 243 84.4%
2011-2012 1468 2572 63.7% 1004 1326 56.9% 143 384 72.9% 40 249 84.6%
2013-2014 1551 2825 64.6% 1058 1611 60.4% 152 605 79.9% 42 329 88.7%

These numbers suggest that "titled" has been winning, but the rate of change is fairly slow; and that the COHA estimate of 60-65% for the current overall level in published material is about right.


  1. Tom S. Fox said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 2:38 pm

    I have made the observation that when there is a word A that has meanings X and Y, and a word B that only has meaning Y, prescriptivists will insist that word A should only have meaning X.

    Two examples from German:

    schwierig ("difficult") / schwer ("difficult," "heavy," prescriptivists insist it should only have the latter meaning.)

    kostenlos ("free of charge") / umsonst ("free of charge," "in vain," prescriptivists insist it should only have the latter meaning.)

    [(myl) There's something right about this, but it's not so simple, at least in the case of (en)titled, since titled can also mean (as the Century Dictionary put it) "Having or bearing a title, especially one which is constantly used, either with the name or instead of it; specifically, bearing a title of nobility; noble."]

  2. AB said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 3:38 pm

    Peevery is such a menace.
    But antipeevery of the conventional kind will always fail. The second you begin to explain that a purported "mistake" is not a mistake, the second you begin to cite examples from actual usage (never mind if you restrict your corpus to works of Shakespeare, Orwell, Strunk and Heffer) you lose your authority as a linguist and a scholar and are identified as a hated proponent of neo-Bolshevik politically-correct anything-goes-ism.

    What is needed instead is PEEVERY FROM BELOW. For instance, the LAGB could issue a press release, announcing that after extensive historical and above all logical research, they have determined that the only correct second person plural pronoun in Proper English (PE) is yous, as folk in some parts of Essex have always known. This might seem to conflict with ordinary use and even certain prestigious texts but that only goes to show that Some People Can't Speak Their Own Language Properly and Even Famous Authors Make Mistakes.Yous is more logical, since regular English plurals have -s; it avoids ambiguity; most importantly of all, it is more consistent with Latin*! (Of course there's nothing wrong with the odd you in informal chat, but it would be pretty irresponsible to bring up children speaking that way, if yous ever want them to have any hope of landing a decent job.)

    Future projects: double negatives discovered to be obligatory; isn't discovered to be a corrupt slang term to be replaced in Proper English with ain't; Yo, blud the only technically acceptable form of hello.

    *No clarification of this last point will ever be requested.

  3. Anson said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

    We are all entitled to entitle anything we write with any title we choose.

  4. Greg Bowen said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 4:43 pm

    @Tom S. Fox

    The schwierig/schwer example is very similar to English's hard and difficult.

  5. D.O. said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 6:20 pm

    We are all entitled to entitle anything we write with any title we choose.
    Should it be "We are all entitled to entitle anything we write with any entitlement we choose."?

  6. Peter Evans said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 7:02 pm

    Almost every copy of Lolita (those from the Olympia Press being among the few exceptions) concludes with an afterword by the author, “On a book entitled Lolita”. Do the peevers not know this, or do they regard Nabokov's English as substandard?

  7. Giacomo said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 7:21 pm

    How could I convince peevers that a book is necessarily entitled because only the upper ranks of the nobility are titled?

  8. Owen said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 7:27 pm

    Well, Nabokov wasn't a native speaker so clearly he isn't one to talk. [/sarcasm]

  9. Viseguy said,

    January 17, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

    This post reminds me why my Twitter account has been mostly inactive from the day (several years ago) I opened it. As one born at the very beginning of the 4.92% era and educated by the Dominican Sisters of Louisville, Kentucky (prescriptivists par excellence, whom I'll always thank from the bottom of my heart for giving me something to hang on to — and making diagramming sentences a hobby for a couple of years in my preadolescence — until Bill Labov opened my eyes at Columbia a year before he deserted us for U.Penn.), I can attest that one only needs to live long enough to appreciate firsthand the utter stupidity of debates like the "titled" vs. "entitled" kerfuffle on said social medium. Having said that, I'll add that Marco Rubio makes Ross Douthat look like a genius instead of a highly intelligent person who more than occasionally says idiotic things — In My Humble Opinion.

  10. John Roth said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 12:09 am

    Well, the Iron Law of Language Change is that language changes. For myself I wouldn't use entitled for the title of a book or other writing, and it's unusual enough that it tends to make itself known to the detriment of focusing on the actual material. Other people clearly regard it as unexceptional. Brians doesn't mention it at all, Garner regards it as unexceptional and Merriam-Webster doesn't mention the fact that usage is in the process of changing.

  11. James said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 4:05 am

    For myself I wouldn't use entitled for the title of a book or other writing, and it's unusual enough that it tends to make itself known to the detriment of focusing on the actual material.

    John Roth, it really isn't unusual. Did you look at the usage graphs in the blog entry? "A book entitled" is still more common than "a book titled". So if you want to avoid the word that tends to make itself known to the detriment of focus on the actual material, you'd better switch to 'entitled'.

    [(myl) It might well be true that entitled in the "name of a work" sense is on its way into the dustbin of history — though there's some suggestion that the rate of change has slowed or even reversed since 2000, and even extrapolating the faster 1980-2000 rate of change would take the best part of a century to go to completion.

    But the question in the background here is whether "a review that should have been entitled X" is a solecism, in terms of current norms of elite language use. And the answer to that question is clearly "no" — despite an apparent change in progress, entitled is still outnumbered 4-to-1 in expressing that meaning. This raises the question in the foreground of the post, which is why so many people have invented or accepted the fiction entitled in this sense is an error of usage.

    And there's also a question that I didn't raise but could have. Lexical change sometimes leads to peeving that the new usage is Wrong. But in this case, the peevers are all on the opposite side. Why? ]

  12. John Roth said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 6:51 am


    It doesn't matter what the statistics show. All those funky little neurons and synapses in my language areas say it's unusual, so it interrupts my focus on the whatever the matter at hand is. It doesn't matter how much I tell them it's fine, they still insist on raising the flag when they see it in that context.

    [(myl) But as James (and the original post) observe, it's NOT unusual — "WORK entitled" is still four times more common than "WORK titled". So the mystery is why your funky little neurons and synapses have a different (and empirically false) opinion. That's the question this post was trying to answer.]

  13. Richard Hershberger said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 7:56 am

    The question that has long fascinated me is not why any individual peeve stuck, but why some do and some don't. My collection of old usage manuals includes not only peeves that remain with us today, like a lingering head cold, but equally good–even glorious!–peeves that are long forgotten. Why is this? Why aren't we regularly subjected to rants about how "reliable" isn't a word, or that only an illiterate clod would write "The house is being built."? I have no idea. The books that include those two examples also include the modern usual suspects, with no discernibly better or worse facts or logic in support.

  14. Emery Rouette said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 11:45 am

    Titled, being one syllable shorter, sounds cleaner to me and therefore a better fit for the straightforward task of stating: this is what the thing is called by. Using entitled here seems pretentious because it is adding an extra syllable to communicate the same meaning. Whereas, sonically, entitled feels fit for a fancy way of saying asshole according to 2015 fashions. Perhaps, no matter how widespread the usage, entitled is the more affected choice for announcing a title because of that damned extra syllable? Did Mr Douthat's deriders not mean to attack his affectation rather than his usage absolutely? The crime, which accords with and is compounded by your hypothesis, was (perhaps and more profound than a lapse of good usage) a lack of good taste; who, other than the entitled, would choose to work entitled into hiser's writing when a pithier and less loaded alternative exists?

    (Also, now that I write the word title, might the aesthetic advocacy for merely using titled have something to do with symmetry and, to be redundant, simplicity: title/titled not title/entitled? If you want to be a friend of The People, symmetry and simplicity seem the order of the day, not rhetorical flourish however legitimized.)

    (Also this was all happening on twitter where, I understand, characters are restricted? In this context I doubt Mr Douthat's intentions in adding an unnecessary E N were innocent.)

  15. AB said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 2:09 pm

    i recently encountered the claim that it is incorrect to use "some" with a count noun. One must, the peever in question maintained, say "several". No amount of evidence would persuade them otherwise. (I don't usually bother to argue but he was were very rudely 'correcting' a non-native speaker.) Has anyone else come across this one? Is it new, or an authentic, traditional peeve?

    [(myl) That's an unusual peeve — I've certainly never seen it before, and a quick web search doesn't turn up any other examples. It's an especially odd peeve because it's so clear that the relevant range of meanings is so different: "Some people don't like chocolate" vs. "Several people don't like chocolate".]

  16. Alyssa said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

    I always thought the official rule was that "entitled" just describes the name of the book/article/whatever, while "titled" implies a person giving it a name. IE: you can title a book "X", but you can't entitle it "X" – the book just is or is not entitled "X". This would still make "a review that could have been entitled" an error – you'd have to say either "could have been titled" or "could be entitled".

    Is this just a different zombie rule I've invented for myself?

  17. AB said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 2:40 pm

    Looks like a zombie. Seems to be, if anything, the otherway round.
    I get 100k ghits for "entitle his book" vs 20k for "title his book";
    20k ghits for "entitle her book" vs 5k for "title her book; 160k for "entitle the book" vs 5k for "title the book" (most of which look like false hits anyway, with "title" as a noun followed by comma/semicolon).

  18. Thor Lawrence said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 4:11 pm

    AB: Where would the prescriptivists put the apostophe in "yous"? :>}

  19. Sid Smith said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 4:51 pm

    Also notable is "entitled" to mean wealthy and complacent. To this Brit it seems new-ish and American.

  20. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 5:03 pm

    http://grammarist.com/usage/entitled-titled/ seems to claim (if I'm reading it correctly) that "book entitled" has fairly recently become the minority variant if you look through google news as a whole (suggesting NYT usage might be a lagging indicator, and generally serving as a reminder that when doing corpus linguistics the choice of corpus can matter quite a bit) But obviously there's a huge difference between "no longer the majority variant in all contexts" and "archaic/obsolete/wrong."

    It is possible that entitled/titled works differently for "review" than "book," of course. My first page of recent google results for "review entitled" are very science-heavy, e.g. "A new collaborative review entitled, 'Novel Approaches in Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Therapy.'" I had to get to the 5th page of results before "entitled" was used with a "review" that was a book review in a mainstream/non-academic publication, whereas a hit fitting that description was on the first page of results for "review titled."

  21. Guy said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 5:10 pm

    Alyssa, if I understand what you mean correctly, you seem to be saying that the verb "entitle" no longer exists and that "entitled" is only available as an adjective and not a past participle. I don't think that's right, and I'm not sure why grammaticality would necessarily turn on the tense of the clause as you suggest even if that were right – "A book that could have been 200 pages longer" strikes me as just as grammatical as "A book that could be 200 pages longer", although the meaning is different. (The former is "doubly modally remote" and indicates that the hypothetical possibility is now foreclosed).

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 5:26 pm

    The notion that the more recent pejorative sense of "entitled" might have skunked other older senses seems intuitively plausible, but it strikes me that sentences of the form "A is entitled to B" remain quite common and unskunked. (Secular decline in "entitled to" for most of 20th c according to google books n gram, but stabilized/slightly rising since early 90's.) So one would need to explain why some but not other uses of "entitled" got skunked.

  23. D.O. said,

    January 18, 2015 @ 6:15 pm

    1) "Book titled" is only 1/3 of the "book entitled", but titled is a much rarer word. If we do the ratios (book entitled)/entitled vs. (book titled)/titled the latter wins 3.5%/2%, which might (let me emphasize it — might) mean that for some people the word entitled is reserved for other things. That is, the feeling might be that "book entitled" is wrong not because a book can not be entitled, but because entitled is about something else and we have more exact and specific word for titling books. I don't know whether that sort of linguistic perception mechanism ever works, just throwing in an idea.

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 19, 2015 @ 1:05 am

    My funky monkey neurons also say "book titled" is the normal form and dislike "book entitled". Following on what's in J. W. Brewer's link (though I don't know whether we can trust Google News numbers), I checked the Spoken corpus of COCA.

    book titled: 45
    book entitled: 28

    This suggests that what comes to mind is "titled", but in print copyeditors are keeping "entitled" alive, or rather undead. Well, it may not suggest anything that extreme, and there might be other explanations, but I wanted to point out that the foot may be in the other shoe, as the zombies say.

  25. Bob Ladd said,

    January 19, 2015 @ 2:32 am

    "And there's also a question that I didn't raise but could have. Lexical change sometimes leads to peeving that the new usage is Wrong. But in this case, the peevers are all on the opposite side. Why? "

    One situation in which lexical change can rapidly render an older usage Wrong involves taboo, euphemism and "political correctness". Gay 'merry, light-hearted' rapidly became obsolete in the early 1970s following the rise of gay 'homosexual'. Similar changes have affected e.g. cock, Eskimo, Negro, and Peking; the shift in meaning of cock is old, so I don't know how abrupt it was, but the other three examples have all happened within living memory and were all quite sudden. I'm not suggesting that such replacements are entirely comparable to entitled/titled, but what they share is active disapproval of the older form, so the sociolinguistic dynamics might be similar.

    A related question: what determines whether (or when) a taboo usage drives out an older usage? Gay 'homosexual' existed as slang for decades without affecting the earlier meaning. Similarly, Italian scopare in its slang meaning 'fuck' coexists unproblematically alongside the ordinary meaning 'sweep'.

    [(myl) What's different about entitled, compared to the other cases you cite, is that the older usage is forgotten, not just deprecated — rather than being treated as offensive or confusing, it's seen as a malapropism, an ignorant mistake.]

  26. Sandy Nicholson said,

    January 19, 2015 @ 7:46 am

    I hadn't been aware of any particular peevery around titled/entitled (despite having worked for a decade as a copy-editor). So I thought perhaps British English had a different take on things.

    Using the Google ngram viewer to compare book titled and book entitled did indeed reveal a difference between AmE and BrE – using the American English (2009) and British English (2009) corpora as proxies for these varieties. It wasn't a dramatic difference, and both varieties still prefer entitled in 2000. But whereas in AmE this outweighs titled by a factor of just 2.7 or so, in BrE the ratio is nearer 7.5 – and the rise of titled appears to have begun much later in BrE.

    If I were to talk informally about a book with a particular title (assuming I wouldn't just refer to it by the title), I'd probably say neither the book entitled X nor the book titled X. Instead, I think I'd be far more likely to say the book called X. Even in written corpora (again referring to the ngram viewer), called is actually up there with entitled (regardless of the variety). I suspect there's no significant difference in the frequency of the two. Of course, called and entitled are likely to be used in different contexts – and the same could be said of titled.

    One further datapoint, suggested by an earlier comment: I decided to do the same ngram comparisons (AmE and BrE) for article called, article titled and article entitled. Here entitled has an even greater lead over titled, though that form is on the rise. Interestingly, in this context, uses of called appear to be have been vastly outnumbered by uses of entitled since the mid 19th century, and the use of titled has only very recently nudged above the use of called.

    Ngrams for books and articles (BrE: switch to American English corpus for comparison).

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 19, 2015 @ 10:14 am

    Garner pretty much agrees with the MWDEU for once—"both senses [of entitle] are well established."

    He notes that the AP stylebook and several other newspaper stylebooks forbid entitled when referring to titles. This would go a long way to explaining patterns of newspaper usage.

    He also says that "in the best usage", only the past participle entitled is used for titles; entitle is not used that way as an active verb. (He says "transitive verb".) I checked this at Google Ngrams and it seems to reflect a real and long-standing preference. This could also contribute to people's increasing discomfort with book entitled, though the passive forms are far more common than the active.

  28. the other Mark P said,

    January 19, 2015 @ 2:04 pm

    AB: Where would the prescriptivists put the apostophe in "yous"? :>}

    Pronouns don't take apostrophes, as any peever knows. ("It's not helping with its problem".)

    If yous fellas have a car then it is youses car. ("yous fellows" is good NZ idiom, less common now than it used to be, sadly.)

    Or, if you are in the Southern US, y'alls car.

    [(myl) Interestingly, many speakers of Southern States English feel that it should be spelled ya'll rather than y'all.

    Paul Brians thinks this is an error, on logical grounds, as does Gae-Lynn Woods. I agree with their reasoning, but I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea that English spelling is governed by logical principles.

    And just a couple of days ago, Carl Hiaasen spelled it "ya'll", or at least his headline writer did: "Hey, America … ya'll come on down!", St. Augustine Record 1/17/2015.

    And then there's Ellen Degeneres, "'Oprah gave me the flu ya'll!'", CBS-6 (Richmond VA).]

  29. AB said,

    January 19, 2015 @ 3:48 pm

    Mark P makes a common mistake. All plural's take apostrophe's. Not his fault, probably educated by trendy permissive teacher's.

  30. Chris C. said,

    January 19, 2015 @ 7:29 pm

    As many properly acculturated inhabitants of the New York Metropolitan Area could tell us, the proper plural of "you" is spelled "youse". No apostrophe.

  31. Nathan said,

    January 20, 2015 @ 11:37 am

    @AB: Where does the apostrophe go in "children"?

  32. neko said,

    January 20, 2015 @ 8:11 pm

    Why do I have a weird feeling that "titled" is a more neutral description of what a book is called, and "entitled" has a slight emphasis on the fact that the title was bestowed on the book by someone…

  33. DWalker said,

    January 21, 2015 @ 1:11 pm

    One of the posts above got me to wondering…

    Just how big is the dustbin of history, anyway? It sure holds a lot of stuff. We ought to look through it every once in a while….

  34. Guy said,

    January 21, 2015 @ 2:07 pm


    I feel similarly. It seems to me the en- prefix is puts explicit emphasis on the "bestowing" or "imbuing" to create a more dynamic feel. I also feel it's a little more formal.

  35. Geoff Nunberg said,

    January 21, 2015 @ 3:09 pm

    I did a Fresh Air piece about the rise of the new senses of entitlement in 2012, noting among other things that it paralleled narcissistic:

    …"entitled" isn't quite the same as time-honored reproaches like "spoiled." Like "narcissistic," "entitled" adds a tone of clinical authority. If you want to know if someone is spoiled, you ask your grandmother; if you want to know if they've got a sense of entitlement, you ask Dr. Joyce. And while "spoiled" suggests someone at the mercy of infantile needs, a sense of entitlement implies a legal or moral claim. When you give a kid who's spoiled a B minus on his final, he comes to your office hours and throws a tantrum about how he needs an A to get into medical school. When you give the same grade to a kid with a sense of entitlement, you're apt to get a call from the family lawyer.

  36. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 21, 2015 @ 3:34 pm

    You can certainly find the deprecated usage of "entitled" in what would seem to be fairly informal registers (googled-in-the-wild example: "A sexy little number entitled 'Play Me Like A Fiddle' from our concept album The Lapdancer performed LIVE the other night.") That doesn't mean there might not be a broader trend for "entitled" to be more common in more formal contexts, of course, but the peeve here seems to be that it's Just Plain Wrong in all contexts, not just overformal for the genre of the tweet.

  37. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 21, 2015 @ 4:29 pm

    Should have thought of this before – there's obviously a natural desire to find some semantic difference between "entitled" and "titled" because otherwise having two words seems redundant, but sometimes the right rejoinder is that given by Woody on Cheers: "Well, isn't it the same thing like flammable and inflammable? Boy, I learned that one the hard way."

  38. Link love: language (61) | Sentence first said,

    January 28, 2015 @ 4:41 am

    […] Why did people start peeving about "book entitled"? […]

  39. John Cowan said,

    January 29, 2015 @ 10:39 pm

    I note that the 1933 obscenity case against Ulysses was called United States v. One Book Called "Ulysses", whereas at the appellate court level it was retitled (re-entitled?) United States v. One Book Entitled "Ulysses".

RSS feed for comments on this post