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.


  1. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, in the sentence preceding the one you cite, credits Emily Post in 1927 and journalism professor John Bremner with helping to spread the hatred for that usage of entitled.

    Bremner is the relevant source here. He terrified thousands of college students and Gannett editors into buying "Words on Words;" he targets entitled on page 148.

    Distinguish between these words. Entitled involves a right ("You are entitled to equal opportunity"). Titled involves a name ("The book is titled The Professional Journalist").

  2. You ruined my day. No longer can I feel superior to anybody who uses "titled" and "entitled" differently than I do. Wait, I think I'll feel superior anyway. A sense of superiority should not be given up lightly.

  3. Discussion on Language Log by Mark Liberman (3/3/07, "Why are so many linguistic corrections incorrect?", here), with a brief follow-up mention that same day by me ("Self-incorrection", here).

  4. I always took the AP "rule" to be a matter of consistency (call it foolish if you like) and saving two characters. I'm not sure it was intended to label "entitled" incorrect with titles, though many users have clearly interpreted it that way.

  5. N.B. Garner says in the second edition that the give-a-title-to sense of "entitle" "is confined to the past-participal adjective" and that "title" is preferred over "entitle" as a transitive verb.