noblesse oblige

rudgus

Member
Japanese, English
Which verb can I use with noblesse oblige?

He executed the lofty noblesse oblige.(?)

Or is there any appropriate verb with the expression?
 
  • Æsop

    Banned
    English--American (upstate NY)
    "Noblesse oblige" is a French phrase (sentence, I suppose, since it contains a subject and a verb) meaning "nobility [the social and legal status of being a "noble" or member of the "first estate"] compels," i.e., that being a member of the noble class entails certain obligations and behavior. It's not really an English noun that can serve alone as the subject of a verb, although the phrase is listed as a noun in the American Heritage Dictionary (but not in the printed Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which is older).

    One might say or write something like, "The concept of 'noblesse oblige' requires/compels the aristocracy to look after the welfare of the lower social classes" or "The idea of 'noblesse oblige' prevents/constrains members of the upper class from mistreating their social inferiors." Using the idea as a direct object, one might say, "His shabby and arbitrary treatment of his tenants violated the requirements/tenets of 'noblesse oblige.'"
     

    Lis48

    Senior Member
    English - British
    In a historical context, I would suggest he fulfilled his noblesse oblige, because you fulfill an obligation.
    But executed doesn´t sound bad to me.
    Today the expression is often used as a noun to mean a moral obligation, something that anyone should undertake if they have the means, financial or otherwise. It can be used with many different verbs e.g.

    Our landlord gave us a basket of fruit for Christmas, satisfying his noblesse oblige.
    When Blair moved to no.10, he failed to cultivate his noblesse oblige.
    Thatcher took her noblesse oblige seriously.
    Brown was most at home flaunting his noblesse oblige.
    Elton John would display his noblesse oblige with lavish parties and presents.
     

    rudgus

    Member
    Japanese, English
    In this paragraph below, can I use the word 'Noblesse Oblige' with the verb 'practice'?

    In order to save so many people who are suffering from sudden disasters, out of the warmth of your heart you aided those people through your business of Art Gallery. You, Mr. Tomozo, ought to be highly extolled as a true hero who practices the Noblesse Oblige at our age.
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    It could be a little offputting, rudgus. It implies a higher class stooping to a lower class, in my experience. The concept implies that riches and position require you to care for those beneath you. It can sound quite elitist. An act prompted by noblesse oblige can have very little warmth in it; it can be motivated by a declaration of superior status or a display of wealth rather than a desire to help.

    To be perfectly clear about the intention I would use words in English that communicated the something similar:

    "You, Mr. Tomozo, ought to be praised (extolled is a rare word) as a true hero who takes his personal obligation to help those in need seriously."
     

    Lis48

    Senior Member
    English - British
    In this paragraph below, can I use the word 'Noblesse Oblige' with the verb 'practice'?

    In order to save so many people who are suffering from sudden disasters, out of the warmth of your heart you aided those people through your business of Art Gallery. You, Mr. Tomozo, ought to be highly extolled as a true hero who practices the Noblesse Oblige at our age.
    Personally I think extolled and practises go well with the phrase noblesse oblige if you wish to write in a very formal way but I would leave out the before noblesse oblige and spell practise as a verb with an s.
     

    spb

    Senior Member
    English
    It could be a little offputting, rudgus. It implies a higher class stooping to a lower class, in my experience. The concept implies that riches and position require you to care for those beneath you. It can sound quite elitist. An act prompted by noblesse oblige can have very little warmth in it; it can be motivated by a declaration of superior status or a display of wealth rather than a desire to help.

    To be perfectly clear about the intention I would use words in English that communicated the something similar:

    "You, Mr. Tomozo, ought to be praised (extolled is a rare word) as a true hero who takes his personal obligation to help those in need seriously."
    I'd like to add my support to James' warning on this expression. In my experience it's almost invariably used in an ironic or even cynical sense, as is almost any discussion about 'the nobility' these days. I would look askance at anyone who used the expression in relation to me - sort of "are you trying to be funny?"
     

    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    I think there's a lot of confusion about this concept which, in 1835, in "Le Lys dans la vallée" (the lily of the valley) Honoré de Balzac called a single word. I suspect he knew how to use the word "phrase" at the time. ;)

    I'll just pull from the Wikipedia the lines I added there:

    --------------------------
    The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française defines it thus:

    1. Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.
    2. (Figuratively) One must act in a fashion that conforms to one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned.
    The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term "suggests noble ancestry constrains to honourable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility". Being a noble meant that one had responsibilities to lead, manage and so on. One was not to simply spend one's time in idle pursuits.
    ----------------------------

    Absolutely no implication that "caring for those beneath you" socially or economically is required.

    Cheers - Bob
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Whether it is part of the original meaning or not, it is certainly used with that connotation now. It may be emphasizing only one aspect of noble behavior but it's quite a common association.

    Examples:

    The Irony of Democracy

    From the beginning, Roosevelt expressed a more public-regarding philosophy. Soon his personal philosophy of noblesse oblige -- elite responsibility for the welfare of the masses -- became the prevailing ethos of the new liberal establishment.

    Our Neighbors

    "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Many have only to know the situation, and to be told the needs of the weaker brother to use their influence to make things better. Such people instinctively recognize the principle of noblesse oblige.

    Old Money: The Mythology of Wealth In America

    A whole medley of sentiments and impulses and convictions lay behind them, including the gift ethos, the idea of public service, paternalistic care and maternalistic nurturance, and political and economic expediency. Summed up, this is noblesse oblige.



    It may be a distinctly American view of the principle.
     

    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    Thanks, JamesM,

    I think that's not "American," but a view wanting something to mean something other than it does.

    I understand that this is not a comment that fits with today's politics - I just want everyone to understand the real meaning.

    Cheers -Bob
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Thanks, JamesM,

    I think that's not "American," but a view wanting something to mean something other than it does.

    I understand that this is not a comment that fits with today's politics - I just want everyone to understand the real meaning.

    Cheers -Bob
    Define "real". :)

    Here's the Merriam-Webster definition of the phrase:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/noblesse+oblige?show=0&t=1290004361
    Definition of NOBLESSE OBLIGE

    : the obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior associated with high rank or birth



    I do think the phrase is associated with giving from richer to poorer, higher to lower in American English, Bob. Words and phrases can have different connotations in different variants of English. Besides, this has nothing to do with current politics. One of the examples I offered above is from 1922.
     

    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    I know that this is how Americans have used it, but it's not used like that in the rest of the world.

    This is the motto of the National Honor Society; I wrote an email to them asking, simply, what they hoped to communicate with their motto. The response from an Associate Director was: "We commonly reference that the position of being recognized as an outstanding student with many talents in the four criteria obligates them to be good leaders and good servants to their school and their community."

    Another of my additions to the Wikipedia entry concerns the appearance of the term in "Le lys dans la vallée":
    [...] recommends certain standards of behaviour to a young man, concluding: "Everything I have just told you can be summarized by an old word: noblesse oblige!" His advice had included comments like "others will respect you for detesting people who have done detestable things"
    My guess is that this usage appeared here about 1910, growing out of the Progressive movement. It well could have been originated by one of the leaders of that movement, Woodrow Wilson, either when he was President of Princeton or of the USA. So, I think the term has been politicized in the USA, and that's the reason that there is a unique interpretation here.

    Cheers - Bob
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    So, by "current" politics, you were referring to the last hundred years? :)

    I agree that it has a class aspect to it to American ears. I also agree that it has other connotations to people outside the U.S. I can also accept that it may not have been its original meaning, although I would need to research that a bit more. What I object to is the idea that this is not the "real" meaning, at least when used in the U.S. It might be unique to our country but we are talking about 350 million people who speak a form of English using this phrase in this general sense.

    The interpretation is older than Wilson and older than 1910. Here's a quote from an 1896 publication:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=DmAp6QTSrYEC&pg=PA215&dq=noblesse+oblige&hl=en&ei=I_fjTOCXN4v6sAPqlMBm&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CE0Q6AEwCDgo#v=onepage&q=noblesse oblige&f=false

    "It bears with the ignorant mind as it would with the child's mind, explains and illustrates to make it understand, and seeks always for the good thing in every one that can be developed in order to set agencies at work to develop it." "But that is noblesse oblige," interrupted the reporter. "Yes, and did you ever think out the justice of noblesse oblige?"


    The original question was about the use of noblesse oblige. It's a valid point to say how it will be interpreted by a large number of American English readers.
     

    sergio11

    Senior Member
    Spanish (lunfardo)
    Hello,

    "Noblesse oblige" will have different meanings depending on each person's particular interpretation of what "noble" or "nobility" entails. Political agendas often dictate the use of certain terms with certain meanings. It has been the same way always and everywhere. In this case, if it wasn't Roosevelt or Wilson, whoever else was involved in the game, whether Marx, Nietzsche or someone else, hijacked the term and restricted its use to fit their own views of noble and ignoble, and ultimately of right and wrong. Unfortunately political correctness is a powerful force to mold our language and our worldviews. We have lost perspective and look through a narrow tube.

    Greetings
     

    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    James, of the 350 million in the USA, I doubt that more than 1% ever have heard the term. In any case, anyone in the USA who knows the term also should be aware of the meaning that the rest of the world understands when it hears noblesse oblige. If the President uttered it in reference to a grant given to the Ivory Coast, for example, the money would be returned with a terse note indicating their displeasure. No one else thinks it has to do with social justice.

    Thanks for that citation from 1896. It tends, I think, to confirm the suggestion that the idea of "social justice" was not a part of the concept at that time.

    In the last decade, the term "to beg the question" has come to be used incorrectly by many people because a few TV personalities thought it was a more erudite way of saying "to raise the question." M-W also includes this erroneous usage without mentionning that it arose from a misunderstanding. Today, if you use the term correctly, most people misunderstand instead of asking for a clarification. Is that also what we want our dictionary to accomplish?

    I realize that I'm tilting at windmills here, but, what contribution can we make if we don't seek out errors in need of correction?

    Cheers - Bob
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I don't think it's an error. I think it's an evolution of the connotations of the phrase.

    "Notorious" did not always have a negative connotation. Does that make the current negative connotation of the word an error? I don't think so.

    "Chemise" in French doesn't mean a woman's blouse. It means a man's shirt. Does that make the use of the word in English to mean a woman's blouse an error?

    Words tend to migrate to a more restrictive use over time. It's one of the patterns of language. Words and phrases borrowed from other languages follow the same pattern and often take on a meaning that wasn't present in the original language. The meaning of most words can be seen as an error, depending on the point of reference you pick for its meaning.

    I agree with you that it is good to know the different interpretations of the phrase from different points of view. I don't agree that its current meaning in American English is an error.
     
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    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    I think it's an error because it leads to misunderstanding. This is at a different level than chemise d'homme or chemise de femme.

    I added a comment about "begs the question" to my previous post.

    Thanks for your thoughtful responses!

    Cheers - Bob
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I think it's an error because it leads to misunderstanding.
    This conversation seems to be rather going round in circles.

    If, in the USA, it's generally taken to have the social conscience meaning, then it doesn't lead to misunderstanding amongst those people.

    It's only when you take a term outside the area where it's 'semantically at home', and introduce it into a place where it means something else, that you get misunderstandings.

    That's why I never ask for 'a puff on your fag' when I'm in the USA.
     
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    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    ewie said:
    then it doesn't lead to misunderstanding amongst those people.
    Only when someone uses it correctly. ;)

    I'm not trying to pick a fight here; just trying to be certain that anyone that consults wordreference.com understands that the "social justice" implication is provincial. I think the current wikipedia entry provides the balanced view I had hoped to find here.

    I normally participate on the German and French boards, so, if there's a better place to provide these clarifications in English here, I'm glad to touch base there, too.

    Cheers - Bob
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Only when someone uses it correctly. ;)
    If someone who is in an American English environment and aware of the meaning of the term in this environment uses it with a sense from another environment, I'd hardly call that "correct" use. It is showing insensitivity to the current environment just as much as it calls for sensitivity towards another cultural context. That's an odd definition of "correct".
     

    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    Point well taken, James, but I meant it partially in jest; poking fun at my own position. It's certainly not a term that I've placed that I can remember. Only in discussions about my attempts to get American dictionaries to note the fact of our insular usage.

    Cheers - Bob
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    The Corpus of Contemporary American English shows it has appeared over the past twenty years in a wide range of publications across the political spectrum, from Rolling Stone and Mother Jones to American Spectator and the National Review, not to mention its appearance in newspapers.

    I think it might be used a bit more than you're thinking, BAlfson. I imagine the combined readership of all these publications exceeds 1% of the population. :)
     

    BAlfson

    Senior Member
    USA - anglais
    My apologies; I was wrong about having written Merriam-Webster about this two years ago; it was, in fact, "deracinate" instead (darn, I'll need to check that here, too!). I have corrected my earlier post.

    Thanks for that link, James, I will use that in the future!

    I looked at the top 25 listed. Five used it in what I term the incorrect way, seven in a way I couldn't determine easily and the rest used it in the "correct-for-me" way. I suspect most everyone in the USA reads "nobility obliges" and takes the meaning from the context, never considering looking it up or using it again.

    When I said only 1% "heard" the term, I'd say most people read over it without thinking about it being anything more than colorful phraseology by a writer. I only recall hearing the word twice in the last 40 years when I wasn't purposely discussing it, but I may have forgotten a thing or two over that time. ;)

    Anyway, I think I've pummeled this horse sufficiently, and that others curiuos about the term will understand what I wanted to convey here.

    Thanks for sharpening my saw, James, I'm off to check to see if there's anyone that thinks "deracinate" means to "de-race-enate."

    Cheers - Bob
     
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