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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day
  • noblesse oblige

    Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 21, 2024 is:

    noblesse oblige • \noh-BLESS-uh-BLEEZH\  • noun

    Noblesse oblige refers to the idea that people who have high social rank or wealth should be helpful and generous to people of lower rank or to people who are poor.

    // As the inheritor of a great fortune, he was raised to have a strong sense of noblesse oblige, not only volunteering and donating to charity, but advocating for structural change to address inequality.

    See the entry >


    “As is usually the case, actual research reveals that the pair bond of the cardinal is not really sacrosanct. The ostensibly quaint couples we see regularly have a 20% divorce rate, which is of course better than our own, but they are not exactly swans. And while they are mated, they are generally monogamous, but polygyny is known. It is, however, usually observed in cases where the male of an adjacent territory goes missing or because an unmated female persists in foraging and remaining in a male’s territory. A strange form of noblesse oblige. It has not been determined whether these second pairings produce any offspring.” — Bill Chaisson, The Eagle Times (Claremont, New Hampshire), 20 Jan. 2024

    Did you know?

    In a tale collected in 16th-century Germany, a noblewoman wonders why the hungry poor don’t simply eat Krosem (a sweet bread), her cluelessness prefiguring the later, much more famous quote attributed to Marie Antoinette: “let them eat cake.” The queen never actually said that, but we can think of the sentiment behind noblesse oblige as the quote’s opposite—something more like “let us bake them a cake since we own all the eggs/flour/sugar/etc.” In French, noblesse oblige means literally “nobility obligates.” It was first quoted in English in the early 19th century, before being used as a noun referring to the unwritten obligation of aristocrats to act honorably and generously to others. Later, by extension, it also came to refer to the obligation of anyone who is in a better position than others—due, for example, to high office or celebrity—to act respectably and responsibly.

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