Wednesday, May 27, 2015

EEK! What is the Right Word?

Okay, somebody else said it first, but the proper use of entitled or titled is another Pain in the English Language. One just has to do a Google search on the topic to find differing, and conflicting, opinions. Did you know that entitled was the preferred word until the 21st century? Books, plays, and music were entitled, not titled.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary entitled means:
  1. to give a title to: designate
  2. to furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something. (this ticket entitles the bearer to free admission.) 
 The second definition is the one that most of us associate with the word, which is probably why many of us find the usage a bit awkward for naming something - my mystery is entitled Doubletake. However, that usage is correct, ungainly as it is as it trips off one's tongue, and it has been making a bit of a comeback. Maybe someone did some research and found out that the use of entitled to mean named goes back centuries, and entitled was in fact the preferred term until recently. Then that someone decided we should be using the proper word.

Proper or not, I'm not sure that I will start using the word. I agree with Grammar Girl who wrote that while the two words can be used when it comes to naming a work, simpler is still better. She suggests that using titled is okay, but even goes another step and suggests eliminating the words entirely: Doubletake is my new mystery.

That said, I noticed in my research that people who write for more scholarly publications use entitled, and it is noted in the comments on the blog piece on Grammarist that one uses what one is most familiar with, which is why we have The Great Debate. The Grammarist's blog is well worth a visit and do read the comments if you have a moment. There is quite an interesting, and fun, discussion over there, and I had to smile when I read this from a Brit:
 The dictionary may say titled is just as good but us proper English people know better. We'll be calling petrol gas next - where will it all end?
Just in case you might be feeling alone in your confusion over the proper terminology, this is from another comment on the Grammarist's blog:
I used entitled all my life until two British editors on separate occasions told me that it was completely wrong (not that one could use either - completely, utterly wrong) so since then Ive been using titled.... now both sound weird.
Another blog, Writing Explained, covered a bit more about the differences between, and the proper usage of, the two words. Contrary to popular belief, they are not always synonymous. For instance, Garner’s Modern American Usage states that, to be correct, entitled should be used as a past-participle adjective. 
  • I read a book entitled Huckleberry Finn. (CORRECT)
  • The article entitled “America’s Moving Habits” was a good read. (CORRECT)
  • What did you entitle your book? (WRONG)
It goes on to say that as a transitive verb, title is preferred. For example,
  • What did you title your book? (CORRECT)
  • What did you entitle your book? (WRONG)
I thought after doing all the research, I would come away with a definitive answer to the question - To Title or Entitle? However, there is no definitive answer, so I think I'll stick to the suggestion by Grammar Girl and avoid all usage entirely. What about you?
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

13 comments :

  1. My philosophy: When in doubt, go for the writearound.

    My current bugaboo is alright instead of all right. It may be growing in 'acceptability', but I was taught there is no such word, and it will pull me out of a story every time I see it. I see Miss Cook's red circles around each one.

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    1. I hate that improper word usage is becoming accepted as okay.

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  2. I second the "write around" suggestion. My shortcut for this bugaboo is: A book has a title. A person feels entitled.

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    1. Diane, that is a common response now among us common folks. LOL

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  3. "Write around" works for me, too. Restructuring the sentence may amount to avoidance, but it doesn't leave us open to criticism -- at least on the title/entitle issue. For example, the re-issue of my first novel, A Brother Betrayed, will occur the end June. Not only has the title been changed, but the content has been re-edited and enhanced to create a smoother, more satisfying read. No argument here -- title is a noun. :-)

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  4. Linda, I think it is a good idea to write around awkward word usage that makes us stumble as we look back on it. Chances are, readers will also stumble, and we don't want to do that. LOL

    Congrats on your re-release. Do share details with us.

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  5. I feel like my brain just traveled a loop-de-loop roller coaster. I never knew entitled could be used that way.

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    1. LOL, Susan. Hope your brain survives the loop-de-loop.

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  6. So interesting. I've had this conversation. Sending this one to my editor, not that I'd use entitled to name the title of my book. Fun post, Maryann.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Polly. I wasn't even aware of the debate over the two words until Dani mentioned it in the BRP office and asked if one of us contributors would like to do a post. I was aware of some people using entitled, but I thought that had gone out of style.

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  7. Very interesting. I'm guilty. I came of age during the revolution and learned that entitled was a pretentious use of the word, to be avoided except in the most scholarly works (where, presumably, pretentiousness is acceptable). It will never sound right to my ear, but I will accept it in others' works. Thanks for the post.

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  8. You know that was a joke, right? The part about pretentiousness being acceptable in scholarly works? I should have included a smiley face. :-)

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    1. Ellis, I did wonder if it was a joke. Sometimes I try for a joke and it doesn't quite come off, but adding a smiley face does help. I do agree that the use of entitled can come across as feeling... well... entitled. :-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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