"Entitlement" now means the opposite of entitlement

I see reflexive comments on Facebook these days whenever someone suggests axing Social Security or Medicare:* “Don’t you dare call those programs ‘entitlements!’ We paid into those programs all our lives, we earned them, we deserve them.”*

Although, IIRC, nobody actually has a legal right to those benefits (if Uncle Sam abolished those programs tomorrow, suing the US govt would get you nowhere) - don’t sentiments of this sort imply that “entitlement” means something you do NOT deserve, and is a handout given out to freeloading people? It’s like entitlement now means something you did not earn and do not deserve…in other words, are not entitled to.

So you know that a lawsuit challenging the sudden elimination of these programs would lose as a fact? I can imagine contractual arguments, and maybe a few more. Of course it wouldn’t matter because Congresspeople voting for this would be forced out of office if not drawn and quartered real fast.
Plus you seem to ignore that people have paid good money for these programs. Can this be ignored? Is that the Trump U version of civics. “You paid me? Sucker!”

BTW, people like me who have paid the max for ever know that we won’t see the same return as those who have paid the minimum, because Social Security is progressive. That’s understood and fine with me. Drastically cutting benefits so that those making $200K won’t have to pay any more is not.

I agree with your premise that “Entitlement’s” meaning is not understood by many folks today. It means that you are entitled to some benefit by virtue of some law or rule. Such as social security, if I paid in, I get benefits.

I’m not sure why some people don’t understand that. They seem to confuse it because some people seem to think that they are entitled to a free collage education or free housing.


What pray tell are the terms of the contract?

When discussing personal characteristics, the expression “entitled” means that the person described goes about behaving as though his every wish is a right, and the world in general and other people in his circle in particular some how should indulge him. It means in this context an unjustified sense of entitlement. So yes, describing someone as “entitled” as a personal characteristic is pejorative, and means the opposite of the traditional meaning of the word.

The example in the OP has someone taking umbrage at the quite correct use of the expression because the pejorative use has become so common and well-established, even though it is patently inapplicable when talking about Soc Sec rights.

They confuse it because certain people *want *them to confuse it. “Entitlement” means a specific type of program ,one where everyone who meets the requirements receives the benefits and which does not have a set budget ( unlike other programs which are funded by block or other grants and have a set budget - if all of a city’s Section 8 vouchers have been awarded, there are no more to be given out whether you meet the eligibility requirements or not) But the way the word is used , it picks up the some of the derogatory meaning of “sense of entitlement” which is often used to mean that someone feels entitled to something that they do not in fact deserve.This makes people think “entitlement program” refers to only to “welfare” programs - mainly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families , which ironically, is not an entitlement program.

And that’s how they get to SS is not an “entitlement program” - because what they actually mean by it is that it isn’t welfare. And it’s not- but there’s a reason politicians talk about reforming or cutting “entitlement programs” rather than “welfare programs”. The reason is because SS and Medicare etc are on the table , too - some people are just starting to see that but are unwilling to oppose cuts to “entitlement programs” because they imagine they don’t have a problem with cutting all those other ones. They probably would have a problem cutting all those other ones since they include most VA programs, unemployment insurance, military and Federal pensions - but they would probably try to define those away as “not entitlements” as well.

The Right has been working on crossing those wires for a very long time now, at least since Reagan. Forty years of lying about terminology seems to work pretty well for them.

I’d guess that it might be possible to argue that paying money to the government specifically to get later benefit would be an implied contract, But I’m no lawyer, and there might be better avenues.

We’ll never know since killing these programs would be political suicide. Look how Bush fared.

It was just a week or two ago that I complained about Google’s definition of “exponential.” Now, I’m afraid I want to blacklist the entire Google Dictionary. :eek:

OTOH, Merriam-Webster hasn’t lost its sanity …

… although that may be, in part, because it lacks a separate entry for “entitled.”

This discussion recalls a dialog from my early SDMB days, when I was just getting to know all y’all. I was trying to explain why SocSec is an “entitlement” and used the example of bond interest as another “entitlement.” Dopers (Hi, John !) responded that neither I nor they knew anything about bonds. :smack:

Really? Contractual arguments?

I’m not sure I see the elements of a contract here. Can you explain further?

For what it’s worth, the Oxford English Dictionary give two senses of “entitled”.

The older sense is “that has a legal right or just claim to do, receive, or possess something”, and in that sense someone who qualifies for social security benefit by meeting the conditions set out in the social security legislation is certainly entitled to be benefit. (They may cease to be entitled to the benefits, at least in the “legal right” sense, if the legislation is changed to impose new conditions which they do not meet, but the political costs of such a change would likely be high.)

The newer sense, which the OED marks as “chiefly N. Amer.”, is “believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment; spoilt and self-important”. There are cites going back to 1977.

Once again American politics makes Newspeak a reality.

I’d have to look, but I suspect some literature from Social Security states directly or implies that ones payment to Medicare and Social Security will result in benefits later. Clearly this isn’t a standard signed contract, but don’t you think someone who needs to come up with arguments against yanking away all benefits would use this?
I did not imply successfully.
The information does not promise or imply any given level of benefits, so reducing (not eliminating) benefits could not be opposed in this way.

Ergo, they are “entitled” to them by law or contract. Which is what the term means, with respect to benefits.

I think people confuse it with the term “entitled”, as in “believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”.

People are stupid.

Interesting. Before 1977, I think, one might speak of “a sense of entitlement,” shorthand for “an inappropriate sense of entitlement,” but the “sense of” has an antagonistic (negating) role. Even in Google’s example (“his pompous, entitled attitude”) the words “pompous” and “attitude” might imply that “entitled” is said with a sneer and has an antagonistic role.

Semantic shifts where a word mutates to its opposite meaning are not unheard of(*), but it’s annoying that the confusion of mutating “entitled” to mean its opposite has been promoted and exploited by American politicians.

I think there’s a distinction in usage which most English speakers will recognise (although, obviously, not those mentioned in the OP).

If I say that somebody is entitled to X or Y or Z, that’s either a statement of legal fact (“John is entitled to a one-third share in his father’s estate”) or a moral assertion (“I think Mary is entitled to give her account of what happened before we make our final decision”). Whereas if I say simply that someone is entitled, without any express or implied referent as to what it is that they are entitled to, that invokes the pejorative sense; that they have an inappropriate sense of entitlement to whatever it is they please.

gee whiz, language is complicated!!
'Cause, ya know, sometimes words mean more than one thing.
For example: to “plead”. You can plead not guilty. And later you can plead with the judge to have mercy in sentencing you.

And sometimes, ya know, the usage of certain words changes over time.
For example : “Colored”. It’s just a way to describe somebody’s skin tone, right?

In legal documents, entitlement still means what it always meant: “you get what is rightfully yours”.
In common American dialect over the past 25 years, entitlement now means “you’re a bitch who thinks that everything is yours”.

Well, you know, it was bound to happen because people thought they were entitled to vote, to go to the same schools as everyone else, to be allowed to have the job they wanted. Now, you never hear people talk about how they are entitled to own guns.

Sorry, but I don’t understand you.What’s your point?You seem to be agreeing with me.
All the examples you list match my definition of entitlement as used in legal documents: Things which the law provides equally (in theory) to every citizen.

Then there is the other, newer, version of the word entitlement .For example, the accusation often hurled at Hillary, or even at GW Bush, that they think they deserve to be given a job , just because of their last name.

But somebody popularised that meaning in our lifetimes. And somebody wants us to think that ‘entitlements’ in a political sense has a meaning closer to the new meaning than the old one. Who?

When language changes, look at who’s doing the changing, and ask why.