noblesse oblige

no·​blesse oblige | \ nō-ˈbles-ə-ˈblēzh How to pronounce noblesse oblige (audio) \

Definition of noblesse oblige

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

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Noblesse Oblige Has French Origins

In French, "noblesse oblige" means literally "nobility obligates." French speakers transformed the phrase into a noun, which English speakers picked up in the 19th century. Then, as now, "noblesse oblige" referred to the unwritten obligation of people from a noble ancestry 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.

Examples of noblesse oblige in a Sentence

He was raised to have a strong sense of noblesse oblige.
Recent Examples on the Web So, his children and certain of his grandchildren became fully aware of an obligation that is characterized by the phrase noblesse oblige. Jamie Katz, Smithsonian Magazine, "Why Eleanor Roosevelt’s Example Matters More Than Ever," 5 Oct. 2020 This job of noblesse oblige raises a host of uncomfortable ethical conundrums, but Peter, in typical fashion, squares them away by showing his self-awareness. Ryu Spaeth, The New Republic, "The Shallowness of the Self-Aware Novelist," 9 July 2020 Catholic social justice with a hint of noblesse oblige. New York Times, "‘Pelosi,’ by Molly Ball: An Excerpt," 5 May 2020 Graham had a medical degree and was living in settlement housing, where the wealthy lived alongside the poor, which appealed to his sense of noblesse oblige. Jennifer Szalai, New York Times, "The Unlikely Life of a Socialist Activist Resonates a Century Later," 4 Mar. 2020 And, unlike the goal of simply becoming fabulously wealthy — which one could also accomplish by winning the lottery or marrying a nonroyal oil magnate — princesshood came with a sense of noblesse oblige. Washington Post, "Meghan Markle just flipped the princess fantasy on its big crowned head," 10 Jan. 2020 Enhanced representations of art by women, African-Americans, Africans, Latin-Americans, and Asians can feel tentative, pitched between self-evident justice and noblesse oblige. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, "The Exuberance of MOMA’s Expansion," 14 Oct. 2019 Where others see noblesse oblige, in other words, Giridharadas spies disingenuous self-dealing. Fortune, "An Insider Takes Aim at Corporate America’s ‘Elite Charade’," 20 Aug. 2019 For some of America’s elite in the 1960s and ’70s, supporting efforts to limit population growth was partly an act of noblesse oblige. Nicholas Kulish, New York Times, "Why an Heiress Spent Her Fortune Trying to Keep Immigrants Out," 14 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'noblesse oblige.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of noblesse oblige

1849, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for noblesse oblige

French, literally, nobility obligates

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Time Traveler for noblesse oblige

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The first known use of noblesse oblige was in 1849

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Last Updated

11 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Noblesse oblige.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for noblesse oblige

noblesse oblige

How to pronounce noblesse oblige (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of noblesse oblige

formal : 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

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