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Privilege as a verb

Discussion in 'English Only' started by JustKate, Oct 4, 2013.

  1. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I found the following in a review (by Slate magazine writer Dana Stevens) of the movie Gravity:
    "This is not to say that Gravity is a masterpiece: Unlike Cuarón's extraordinary Children of Men, it doesn't quite pull off its ambitious effort to combine formal inventiveness, heart-pounding action, and intimate human storytelling. But it succeeds thrillingly at the first two of those categories, and only misses the mark on the last because it tries a little too hard—which is certainly a welcome respite from the countless sci-fi thrillers that privilege the human story not at all."

    "Privilege the human story"? What the heck does that mean? I checked a couple of dictionaries and none of the meanings of the verb seem at all applicable to me.
     
  2. Mahantongo

    Mahantongo Senior Member

    English (U.S.)
    It's pompous, high-falootin' gibberish, although I suspect that what it's supposed to mean is "thrillers that don't pay attention to the human story."
     
  3. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I don't know either. The dictionary says

    privilege
    vb
    (transitive)
    • to bestow a privilege or privileges upon
    • (followed by from) to free or exempt
    http://www.wordreference.com/definition/privilege

    I suppose that, "...a welcome respite from the countless sci-fi thrillers that privilege the human story not at all." must mean "... a welcome respite from the countless sci-fi thrillers that do not bestow privileges on the human story" :confused:

    This would seem to mean that some sci-fi thrillers don't 'benefit the human story'.

    To sum up, I have no idea what the author is talking about! :D
     
  4. cubaMania Senior Member

    Here's definition #2 from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary. Does that seem to fit?
     
  5. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    I suppose it's legit, but I've never heard it either. I'm used to seeing privilege as a passive verb - "he was privileged to have met the Queen" - but not as an active verb in any sense.
     
  6. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I'm beginning to think it is a malapropism. For example the words "feature" or "promote" would fit the rest of the context. I'm sure there's a better "p" word but I can't think of it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2013
  7. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    "Feature" is one of the first words that came to my mind, too, in considering what the writer presumably meant. "Highlight" might be another. Or, come to think of it, "consider". Or "focus on". One could continue this ad infinitum.

    "Privilege" is certainly wrong, and any professional editor would have caught it. Unfortunately, much internet writing is completely unedited.
     
  8. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    I agree that this is the definition that fits. Privilege is used this way as a transitive verb that means something like "give central importance to, take the point of view of.

    It's a jargon term in a certain kind of academic writing, and outside of that context I would express the idea differently.
     
  9. Edinburgher Senior Member

    Scotland
    German/English bilingual
    To my mind that is not a passive usage, it's just a plain old adjective (but one presumably derived from the participle of the verb).

    M-W does in fact list privilege as a transitive verb, meaning inter alia to invest with a peculiar benefit. I think that would fit Kate's context somewhat.
    What the heck does it mean? The specific reference to "intimate human storytelling" as the third item in a list seems to be the antecedent of the "human story" which is being "privileged" (or not).
    Accordingly, the author seems to mean that this film tries too hard to benefit, elevate, or feature the human story, in contrast to most sci-fi thrillers which make no such attempts at all.

    Might Biffo's elusive P-word be portray?
     
  10. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Thanks for all the replies. I think both the malaprop theory and the academic/high fallootin' gibberish theory sound quite plausible. To me, it it smells of a writer trying too hard - to sound erudite, to use interesting words, or to remember a particular word that starts with "p"...But that was as far as I got with my deductions.
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2013
  11. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    I agree with Cagey (post #8). I've come across it quite often in texts written by academics and it always jars. I suppose it must be useful as a shorter way of saying "to accord a higher value or superior position to", if you need to write that sort of thing.
     
  12. perpend

    perpend Senior Member

    American English
    I understand that it gives a human/mortal story more credo. You should believe something more earth-based.

    I don't really have a problem with the usage of "privilege" as a verb.
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2013
  13. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Credo or credence?

    My attempt at summing up

    1. The verb 'to privilege' is correct but used mostly by academics in this sort of context.
    2. Many educated, literate people are unaware of this meaning or find that it jars.
    3. Despite 1 and 2, it is difficult to find another single word that has that precise meaning.
    4. For general consumption it would be wise to find a paraphrase. This might require replacing 'privilege' with a phrase.

    Does that sound reasonably correct?

    Suggestion
    Does the verb "to give sway to" work? [Note: I'm having difficulty finding a definition for this phrase. I'm starting a thread on it]
     
  14. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Perhaps (in the vernacular) "cred," a short form of "credibility."
     
  15. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Hmm... Why do you want to use the vernacular in what was a fairly formal sentence. My point was that "credo" is incorrect in that context and that "credence" was probably the word that perpend intended.
     
  16. perpend

    perpend Senior Member

    American English
    Nope, "credo". Shall it be slang than so be it. "credo" is what I meant, and sorry if it's not an official word.
     
  17. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Credo is an official word. It just doesn't fit!

    credo /ˈkriːdəʊ
    ˈkreɪ-/
    n ( pl -dos)
    • any formal or authorized statement of beliefs, principles, or opinions
    http://www.wordreference.com/definition/credo

    Anyway I'll stop there because we are off-topic.
     
  18. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    The combination of the two phrases 'it tries a little too hard' and 'the countless sci-fi thrillers that privilege the human story not at all' suggests that the writer means that Gravity privileges the human story a little too much.

    The sense of 'privilege' meaning 'assign a superior status to' seems appropriate to me. The criticism means that of the three elements (inventive material or plot, thrilling action and human interest), the film has a little too much of the third. In other words, the balance of these elements is not quite to the critic's taste.
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2013
  19. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    The problem isn't that it's slang. It's just that it's terribly wrong. If that's what you mean, I suggest you check its meaning and some examples of its correct usage.
     
  20. Mahantongo

    Mahantongo Senior Member

    English (U.S.)
    ... and much the same can be said of "privilege" in this context... :cool:
     
  21. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    There is a difference, though.
    As cubaMania and Cagey have pointed out, there is a recognised dictionary meaning of the verb 'privilege' which is relevant to the context of criticism:
     
  22. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Thanks to all for the replies. You were all wonderfully helpful, as always. I have decided that even though there is a definition out there that fits, context is everything (or almost everything), and privilege doesn't work in this context. Using it here is roughly analogous to using affect in psychological sense ("the emotion associated with an idea or set of ideas") in other contexts. It's confusing, distracting and more than a bit pretentious. The meaning cannot be clear - at all - to the average Slate reader, and what's the point of a sentence that isn't understandable to its intended audience?
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2013

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