The dictionary doesn’t know what ‘deserve’ means

My trusted Chambers defines the word as “to be entitled by merit”. This goes to show how out of touch lexicographers can be.

These days ‘deserve’ means something else. When someone says “I deserve X”, what he really means is “I don’t deserve X, but feel entitled to it anyway.”

If I were compiling a lexicon of modern usage, my entry for ‘deserve’ would say: “deserve v.t. not to deserve, receive without earning. See also living wage, George Osborne, glossocracy, Greece ”.

When our politicians mandate that employers must pay their workers “a living wage” because “hard-working people deserve it”, one is tempted to reply that obviously they aren’t hard-working enough, because otherwise they’d earn a living wage without relying on governmental coercion.

In a free country, wages ought to be determined by the market, not state fiat. Doing it the modern way isn’t only morally wrong but also economically unsound.

Employers who can’t afford to pay the decreed wages may decide not to hire a chap, who’d then probably dip into the state’s coffers. And even if a mandated wage doesn’t have such an immediate effect, it’ll still work as a time bomb ticking away.

Employers aren’t going to eat the extra cost of hiring. They’ll pass it on to consumers, which will have a negative knock-on effect on the economy, ultimately leading to more unemployment.

Moreover, such dictatorial practices throw the market out of kilter. This has been invariably shown to hurt the economy in every country where the government tries to play, not merely referee, the economic game.

As if to prove that human intelligence is regressing, such economic basics had been known even before the Industrial Revolution got going in earnest.

Thus, for example, Edmund Burke: “the moment that government appears at market, the principles of the market will be subverted.” I won’t bother to cite similar statements by Adam Smith and other economists: such quotations could fill a book.

It’s up to the market to determine how much workers should be paid. So it does, by making companies, be it banks looking for managers or restaurants looking for waiters, compete for qualified personnel as fiercely as they compete for customers.

In order really to deserve a living wage, a youngster should study hard at school and acquire marketable skills. Then he’ll earn a decent income without giving the state an opening to put its crushing foot down and give the economy a bum steer.

‘Deserve’ is only one of many words that nowadays mean the opposite of their dictionary definitions. ‘Justice’ is another.

The dictionary says it means “the awarding of what is due”. Yet, when modified by ‘social’, justice means awarding something that’s not due – injustice, in other words. If Britain were to function according to the principles of properly defined social justice, a quarter of our population, systematically corrupted and undereducated by socialists, would starve to death. 

‘Liberalism’ is another trans-semantic word. When it was coined, it meant limited government, personal liberty, laissez-faire economics at home and free trade abroad.

As used today, it means replacement of individual responsibility with collective security, various degrees of command economy, as much state control and as little personal liberty as is achievable this side of concentration camps. Thus liberal means illiberal.

The same goes for cognates of ‘liberal’, such as ‘national liberation’. When applied to places like Rwanda, it designates a transitional stage between colonialism and cannibalism. When applied to the ‘former Soviet Union’, it stands for a shift from de jure to de facto Russian control. When applied to Asia, it means Mao, Ho and Kim.

Yet again the dictionary definition falls by the wayside. Words no longer mean what they really mean. They mean whatever modern tyrannies need in order to impose their power on the individual.

Lewis Carroll realised this was coming, which is why he made Humpty Dumpty conduct this dialogue with Alice: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.” 

Nothing short of prescient, that.


P.S. By way of illustration, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki has been knocked out of Wimbledon by Garbine Muguruza. The match was played on Court 4, which according to Miss Wozniacki was unjust (see ‘justice’ above).

She said women “deserve” (see ‘deserve’ above) to be featured on Centre Court, but don’t get the same opportunities as men.

Centre Court has a capacity of 15,000, much greater than the outside courts. Now which match would 15,000 tennis lovers rather see: the crushing bore of Wozniacki-Muguruza or, say, the sublime QF five-setter between Gasquet and Wawrinka? Yes, quite.

Miss Wozniacki clearly uses ‘deserve’ in the Humpty-Dumpty sense of the word.


P.P.S. It hasn’t taken long. People are already quipping that euros should be printed on Greece-proof paper.

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