I happen to have an interest and a certain amount of expertise in words that mean their own opposites. You might say I’m qualified to post here on that topic. You might even say I’m entitled to my opinion on a wider range of things in which I’m not necessarily expert. But if you call me entitled, what you probably really mean is that I’m neither qualified to post nor entitled to express my opinion, or that your right not to be bothered by me supersedes my right to do something that might bother you. Entitled, used adjectivally, tends to mean “not entitled.”
A new OED3 entry for entitled, adj. (2014) records this divergence of sense:
1. That has a legal right or just claim to do, receive, or possess something.
2. Chiefly N. Amer. Believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment; spoilt and self-important.
What OED doesn’t specify is that “believing oneself to be inherently deserving” only counts as entitled in this sense if the belief is false, misplaced, or exaggerated. We all should believe ourselves inherently deserving of our legal rights and just claims. But as the OED quotation evidence shows, entitled tends to be used of groups whose beliefs and claims are less likely to be taken seriously, especially children, but also women and deprecated social groups:
1977 R. Coles Privileged Ones vi. 406 It is a matter of feeling ‘entitled’. A child who has been told repeatedly that all he or she needs to do is try hard does not feel inclined to allow himself or herself much skeptical self-examination.1994 Denver Post 5 June 6/5 […] drooling developers and entitled yuppie transients.1999 L. D. Needleman Cognitive Case Conceptualization (2009) i. 8 Sally..frequently exhibited demanding, rude, and entitled behavior.2010 Daily Tel. 8 Feb. 7/1 Families centred on children create anxious, demanding, entitled children.
Double checking this pattern quickly in COCA, I find the top “entitled X” (in this sense) are: entitled kids, entitled children, entitled brat, and entitled generation. Ditto my Facebook autofill: entitled kids, entitled children, entitled generation.
It’s easy to forget that before the conversation was abruptly changed earlier this month, the commentariat was all abubble over various and variously entitled sorts of people. In line with the tendency noted above, these were often millennials, college kids, African Americans, or some combination thereof. Here’s just a small selection of opinion pieces dating back to last Fall:
STFU millennials: 5 easy ways not to act entitled [NY Post]
A recent survey found 71 percent of American adults consider millennials “selfish” and 65 percent find them “entitled.” “They’ve grown up in an atmosphere of instant gratification, instant information, and one that’s very child-centered,” says Garner.
Mizzou, Yale and the culture of entitlement in colleges [CNN.com]
“The crisis in academia has reached a boiling point. Too many students are wasting their educational years going to college — and earning degrees in self-indulgence. The academic institutionalization of entitlement is lobotomizing America’s kids. If I had been a black college student at the University of Missouri last week, I hope I would have had the courage and conscience to support their effort to end the school’s vestigial racism. […] I also hope I would have resisted student demands to institutionalize their intolerance […]
This Entitled Cat Will Sit Wherever It Damn Wants [Huffington Post]
Arrogant Entitled Football Player Refuses To Stand For The National Anthem… Here Is My Response [Youtube video]
I haven’t linked to the last piece, a Youtube video loaded with racist vitriol directed towards Colin Kaepernick, the black football player who refused to stand for the American national anthem for political reasons. I’ve listened to it for you in order to count the times this asshole calls Kaepernick “entitled” (three times: “arrogant entitled football player”, “entitled little bastard”, “his sorry brainless entitled mouth”) while spewing nonsense about America and Africa.
In the late summer I read and listened to a lot of American football fans complain about Kaepernick’s political act, and a lot more defend it as a “legal right” and even a “just claim”. I think the latter are wrong about rights: clearly free speech isn’t protected in the workplace, and any employer can lawfully forbid even political speech by its employees. The Constitution protects you from the state, not your boss. But Kaepernick’s employers did not forbid the political speech to which he was not legally entitled, which is also obviously totally within their right.
What I find truly fascinating about Kaepernick’s critics is that, while lambasting his sense of entitlement, they repeatedly cited their right not to be confronted with political speech at a football game. They were, they felt, entitled to a politics-free experience, and here was this entitled black football player kid messing that up for them.
The further irony is, of course, that these people don’t recognize mass performance of the Star Spangled Banner as political speech. Nor, presumably, the “Salute to the Military” performed by the home team San Diego Chargers before hosting Kaepernick’s 49ers at the height of this controversy. This involved Navy seals parachuting into the stadium and uniformed service members unfurling a 50,000 sq foot United States Flag, literally the size of a football field.
To these things, it seems, we are entitled.
* This post is, of course, an excuse for the following tagline: “Entitled Professor Posts Post Entitled Entitled Professor”