John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site,, at, and now at

Monday, October 26, 2009


Somewhere early in my career I came across a rule — probably in the Associated Press Stylebook, that fossil record of unsound usage advice — that entitled must not be used in the sense of giving a title to a book, but only in the sense of having a right to something. At some other point, I remember vaguely, I came across advice not to use titled in the sense of a book’s having been given a title, because titled means holding a title of nobility.

One of the glories of the usage game, or mavenry, or whatever you will call it, is that it is entirely possible to be given diametrically opposite “rules,” both of which are wrong.

I haven’t unearthed the source of the objection to titled to determine whether the author was either ignorant or, as the British say, having me on, but the vacuity of the AP rule has been abundantly documented.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage calls entitled for giving a title to a “well-established usage ... common for over 500 years* and ... the older of the two senses.” The third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage concurs without reservation, so we’ve covered both sides of the street. Saying that a book, a play, a short story, or a monograph is entitled so-and-so is not wrong and has never been wrong.

Of course, once you have put the title of the book within quotation marks (AP) or written it in italics (everybody else), even your slowest-witted reader can tell that you are referring to a title, without the need of either verb.

*The current AP Stylebook continues to limit over to spatial relationships. Need I repeat that that, too, is bogus?


I received a review copy of Garner’s Modern American Usage from the publisher. In addition, if a reader of this blog should order a copy of it or Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage from by clicking on the link below, I will eventually receive a minuscule portion of the proceeds.