Entitlement, Part Two

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post in the form of three items that could have been in it, but the post was already long enough without them:

First of all, I am bothered by the complainer’s use of an anonymous forum. (This, by the way, is why I don’t allow comments on my blog, though they’re OK on Facebook, which supposedly vets its contributors.) By the time someone has reached age 17, he should know how to communicate with his teachers. If I assign too much homework, I expect my students to discuss it first with me, not with the whole world. Yes, I know that Don has apparently learned to tweet his grievances to the whole world (and we know who models that), but that should be the last step, not the first. The famous New Yorker cartoon on the right — first published in 1993, when almost nobody knew anything about the Internet — reminds us that anonymity promotes not only access but also irresponsibility. Take responsibility for your own words and your own actions! Surely any senior at Weston can find an adult to confide in without having to remain anonymous.

Second, we also know who has been encouraging the practice of tarring a whole group of people with a broad brush, but Weston students have been taught better. Don can’t honestly be complaining about the entire Weston faculty, and he certainly doesn’t represent the entire senior class, no matter how much he may want to make that claim.

Finally, to turn in an entirely different direction, I want to comment on what has happened to the word “entitled,” which I used in my previous post and in the titles of both posts. The current (recent) meaning of this word is well known, as seen in the following definitions:

  • “feeling that you have the right to do or have what you want without having to work for it or deserve it, just because of who you are” [Cambridge English Dictionary]
  • “believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment” [Google]
  • “convinced of one’s own righteousness or the justifiability of one’s actions or status, especially wrongly so; demanding and pretentious” [Wiktionary]
  • You can look up the Urban Dictionary definition yourself.

But the meaning that I’ve used all my life is quite different, and it’s the source of a tremendous amount of important political misunderstanding about the label “entitlement” to refer to Social Security and Medicare. The traditional definition is shown in the following examples:

  • “Prisoners suffering from opioid addiction are as entitled to medication as those with any other condition requiring medical treatment.” [example from Merriam-Webster]
  • “The adjective entitled means you have a legal right to something.” [vocabulary.com]
  • “Everyone is entitled to the equal protection of the laws.” [example from American Heritage Dictionary]

This is why I very carefully said that Don “feels entitled” rather than “is entitled,” which is the new way to put it.

Why does it matter? It matters because a lot of people — on both sides of the aisle — misunderstand why Social Security and Medicare are called entitlements. It’s not a way of disparaging them! Often I see liberals pointing out that some conservatives are calling them entitlements (which they are, because we’re legally entitled to them) and then thinking that that somehow means that the conservatives are saying that those are a kind of special treatment. Maybe they are, but these programs are what you are legally entitled to, as in the second set of definitions/examples above. An entitlement is a good thing, not a bad thing. But when someone from Weston or elsewhere feels entitled, we mean that they expect special treatment. And, by the way, even though Don claims to speak for the entire senior class, it has been my experience that the Weston students who feel entitled are a distinct minority, not a majority and clearly not 100%.

Language changes, for better or for worse. Don’t try to fight it. We have to recognize two different meanings of this word.



Categories: Linguistics, Weston