noblesse oblige


no·​blesse oblige nō-ˈbles-ə-ˈblēzh How to pronounce noblesse oblige (audio)
: the obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior associated with high rank or birth

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Noblesse Oblige Has French Origins

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.

Examples of noblesse oblige in a Sentence

He was raised to have a strong sense of noblesse oblige.
Recent Examples on the Web The proposals appear to be motivated by a sincere desire to bring an end to the strike, coupled with a sense of noblesse oblige, suggesting that high-earning actors should sacrifice to reach that resolution. Gene Maddaus, Variety, 19 Oct. 2023 Today, Beek and his family run it out of a sense of noblesse oblige. Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times, 9 May 2023 Then the Consolers smile, noblesse oblige. Armond White, National Review, 18 May 2022 This is the opposite of noblesse oblige. Armond White, National Review, 23 Oct. 2020 Even when the theme isn’t noble, a strange sense of noblesse oblige, of privileged people privileging people with culture, redeems it. Matthew Carey Salyer, Forbes, 17 Feb. 2023 Her new role obligated her to master a shifting vocabulary of noblesse oblige. Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, 16 Jan. 2023 Voting for a Bush meant voting for the establishment, for ethics and noblesse oblige. Dallas News, 28 May 2022 One feels in Chiang Mai the same sense of pride, of noblesse oblige, that one senses in other ancient cities with wealthy, royal pasts, like, say, Jaipur and Kyoto; this is a storied place. Hanya Yanagihara, Condé Nast Traveler, 10 Jan. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'noblesse oblige.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French, literally, nobility obligates

First Known Use

1849, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of noblesse oblige was in 1849


Dictionary Entries Near noblesse oblige

Cite this Entry

“Noblesse oblige.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jun. 2024.

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