Pressing for Medicare legislation, President Johnson told press secretary Bill Moyers, “We’ve just got to say that, by God, you can’t treat grandma this way. She’s entitled and we promised it to her.”
Words are like people; they change and grow. Entitle is a prime example. At core, an entitlement is the grant of a rightful legal or moral claim, like the title to your house or car. The first sentence of the Declaration of Independence refers to “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.”
The shift in usage, from rightful to unjustified, dates from the 1960s and 1970s. Psychologists described narcissists as displaying a sense of entitlement. Politicians dropped the word “earned” from Roosevelt’s description of Social Security as an earned entitlement. Defenders of Medicare and Social Security say the programs aren’t entitlements; we’ve paid into them and earned them. Oddly, it has become an insult to call something an entitlement if the recipient is actually entitled to it.
8/13/2018 08:54:04 am
Fascinating historical perspective. An additional usage is the idea that other people are "entitled" to their opinions, but somehow our opinion has more validity than that...
Nice point about opinions (often expanded to "entitled to their opinions but not to their own facts"). I wonder if validity has two slightly different meanings here. I can acknowledge people have a valid right (are entitled) to think national parks are a waste of good land or to paint their house exteriors purple with orange stripes, without thinking they've made a valid choice or reached a valid conclusion in the sense of correct.
8/13/2018 05:16:31 pm
I totally agree with you Sarah and with Dennis. Let me show a carryover into the educational arena. Many of today's students put far less effort into learning than ever before. Homework assignments seem to be on their way out. Students seem to believe that as long as they continue to occupy space (sit in a seat) and continue to breathe, that they deserve at least a "B" if not an "A". And with pressure from above (principals and superintendents): Failure is not an option.
Walter, the sense of entitlement you describe in the educational arena seems to fit with what psychologists in the 1960s and 1970s described in narcissists, but now in students (and their parents) more broadly. Perhaps we need language that distinguishes a sense or feeling of entitlement with actual (legal or moral) entitlement, being truly entitled.
Leave a Reply.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.