<2020 “As a business owner, it was not George’s priority to make money so much as it was to provide jobs . . . George had little use for material possessions and none for conspicuous consumption. . . . There are many non-profits . . . that have benefited from his . . . munificence, mostly given in anonymity. The values associated with the terms ‘noblesse oblige’ and ‘protestant work ethic’ were a calling cemented in him from youth.”—The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 April, page i6>
This is an expression I occasionally see around and which I think has a nice ring to it.
Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary & Oxford English Dictionary
noblesse oblige noun and phrase
noun: The obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior that is a concomitant of high rank or birth; Obligation as a function of (high) social standing. Also in extended use.
phrase: Noble ancestry constrains one (to honourable behaviour); privilege entails responsibility. Also in extended use.
Origin: French, literally, nobility obligates [[OED literally, ‘noble rank entails responsibility’]]
First Known Use: 1837
The following quotes are from The Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
Note: No other dictionary I checked bothers discussing a separate ‘phrase’ usage as the OED does, nor do I think that it’s all that important, but I've included it anyway.
<1837 “To be sure, if ‘noblesse oblige’, royalty must do so still more.”—Records of Later Life (1882) by F.A. Kemble, I.86, Letter 1 August.>[phrase]
<1873 “I always regarded you as a sacred personage, condemned to noblesse oblige, and all that!”—The Pillars of the House by C. M. Yonge, IV. xxxix, page 150> [[noun]]
<1973 “He was pleased to inform the servants of his whereabouts; it simplified their reporting for the KGB. Noblesse oblige.—Moscow by Nightmare by J. Shub, xiii, page 150> [phrase]
<1903 “When someone excused coarseness . . . on the ground of genius, he said, ‘That is an error: Noblesse oblige.[/b]’”—Robert Browning by G. K. Chesterton, v. page 114> [phrase]
<1992 “Gillespie, exercising a monarch's noblesse oblige, also appeared, unbilled, at ‘Bebop, Forty and Under’.”—The Atlantic Monthly, March, page 114/3> [[Dizzy" Gillespie was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer.]] [noun]
<2019 “Bertha Lewis, president of the Black Institute, laughed when told of the AGC’s [[Associated General Contractors]] plan and said it amounted to an empty gesture by the group’s all-white leadership. ‘It’s the same old story.’ Said Lewis. ‘This is about them being able to say we’re addressing inequity . . . This is their noblesse oblige.’”—Daily News (New York, New York), 14 January, page 18i> [noun]
Ken Greenwald – June 17, 2020