Apologies for the tardiness of this entry: I’m about three hours later than usual. Then again, this blog has only been up for two weeks, so I’m trusting my eight regular readers (That includes you, my two loyal feed subscribers! Thanks!) to forgive the later update.
See, I grew up in California. I’ve got a little bit of that Protestant work ethic in me (or maybe just Jewish guilt) that makes me feel obligated to write regular daily posts, just as I feel obligated to market my word business to ensure that potential customers know who I am.
But as this is a word-obsessed blog, I have to ask, dear readers: does my use of obligated grate on your nerves? Is your lip curling as you read this at work? Are you cursing me under your breath for adding two extra syllables to the perfectly serviceable obliged?
Take a deep breath. You’re probably English.
Obligated passes the Merriam-Webster test: in U.S. English the word means legally or morally bound, and I find it makes an excellent description for the commitment I have made to put a new post up here every day.
Of course, good old M-W has a similar definition for oblige:
1: to constrain by physical, moral, or legal force or by the exigencies of circumstance <obliged to find a job>
2 a: to put in one’s debt by a favor or service <we are much obliged for your help>
b: to do a favor for <always ready to oblige a friend>
Here’s the thing: I’m a huge word nerd. When I was eleven, I got laughed out of after-school detention for using the word “procedure.” My copy of Roget’s Thesaurus is one of my most prized possessions. My multifarious vocabulary has won me large amounts of money.
And I don’t think I have ever uttered the word obliged.
My English friends, however, use it all the time. As a matter of fact, they use it in every single instance that I would use the word obligated. So is this all another tempest in a teapot?
Looks like. In my decidedly unscientific survey of the interwebs, I found that most posters who had problems with “obligated” were indeed English. And “John” at Pain in the English knows why:
From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage page 675
“obligated” remains in Scottish and American use, but has dropped out of British English. Both “obliged” and “obligated” mean “being constrained legally or morally”. When the constraint is applied by physical force or circumstances, “obliged” is used. “obligated” is also used to been “indebted for a service or favour”.
John’s right. I checked Google Books and the entry for obligated came up on exactly the page he said it would. There’s an even better explanation, too:
Part of the diffidence toward obligated that is to be found in usage books may come from its having dropped out of use in British English while remaining in Scottish and American use. British commentators and commentators born in areas of British speech are hostile to obligated …Bremner 1980 quotes with obvious satisfaction the fun George Bernard Shaw made of [U.S. President] Woodrow Wilson’s use of the word.
I think that about wraps up today’s U.S.-U.K. debate. But here’s some more amusing evidence that obligated really has dropped out of English English:
- “Attention everyone: It is obliged, not obligated“
- “I’ve only ever heard the word obligated on imported American TV shows.“
- “This is just a personal dislike with no foundation except that I just don’t like the word ‘obligate’.“
I was once a legal proofreader/ copy editor in the US. We snagged the word “obliged” (in a multimillion-dollar legal contract) where it should have been “obligated.” We were thanked profusely by the attorneys involved, who said it saved their hides.