What Do We Deserve?

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One of the most popular and overused words in advertising and political rhetoric is the verb deserve.

deserve (transitive verb): to acquire or earn a rightful claim, by virtue of actions or qualities; to become entitled to or worthy of (reward or punishment, esteem or disesteem, position, designation, or any specified treatment).

For example,
A worker who fulfills his responsibilities deserves to be paid.
A soldier who performs a heroic act deserves a medal.
A student who refuses to study deserves to fail.
A serial killer deserves to be removed from society.

Because deserve implies that the subject of the verb has earned something by effort, one can only wonder why the word is used in the following examples:

We strive to provide you with top-notch service and make the return process hassle free so we can give you the perfect-fitting pair of pants you deserve.

There is a way to acquire the power, energy and body that you deserve.

Every child deserves a college education.

Every child deserves a dog.

You Deserve a Car

Spoil yourself with this recliner –you deserve the best.

In a world of flat-screen TVs and other gadgets, you deserve an energy-saving light bulb.

We believe a quality razor deserves a luxurious cream that protects your skin and helps your blades glide smoothly. We blend natural ingredients to deliver the comfort and performance that you deserve.

Deserve is one of those feel-good words that people like to hear applied to themselves, so advertisers and politicians use it as often as possible.

Careful writers will think twice before using deserve; it’s not a synonym for “want.”

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10 thoughts on “What Do We Deserve?”

  1. OMG thank you so much for this post. People tell me things like this all the time: “You deserve to find a good man,” “You deserve a vacation,” “You’re a good person, you don’t deserve to have that happen to you,” etc. I have been saying for years, “My philosophy on the concept of ‘deserve’ is this: If you work, you deserve to get paid. Beyond that, everything else is gravy and the luck of the draw.” I feel so validated by this post! I am not crazy, I am not a pessimist. I consider myself a realist and this is just the perfect post! 🙂 I deserve–I mean, I want–a gold star LOL.

  2. I agree that the verb “to deserve” is grossly overused and misused, just as Maeve said, and especially by advertisers and politicians.

    On the other hand, look at the definition of the word, as given above: “to acquire or earn a rightful claim, by virtue of actions or qualities”. There is that problematic word “qualities”. For example:

    “Every American child deserves a good education.” This statement is founded on the sole quality “being an American child”. It does not say anything about acquiring or earning the education through studying hard or exercising good intelligence.
    I objected to Mr. Bush’s whole notion of “No child left behind” because the reality is that some children just do not have the intelligence to receive a good education, and they must be left behind the others who are able to make good to excellent progress. Just look at the “bell curves” of the measures of ability.

    “Every American worker deserves a minimum wage of $10.00 an hour.” Once again, the only quality involved is “being an American worker”. In reality, some workers just are not worth that much because they are not that productive. I experience this all the time, and especially with “help line” workers whom we call at telephone companies, cable TV companies, computer software companies (especially Microsoft), answering services, hospitals, etc.
    I am very frequently left with the thought “How did you get your job, and why haven’t you been dismissed, yet?” Else, “Why not cut your wage to $6.66 per hour?” (or $7.00 to be generous?)

    A couple of decades ago, I used to be able to call airline companies concerning reservations, fares, and scheduling and get wonderful service every time. Those years are long gone, and in fact the airlines want their customers to use the Internet for such things all the time. What about awkward Web sites, and customers who are not savvy at the Internet?

  3. When I go do business at a retail store, barbershop, etc., I still have the attitude that I deserve good-to-excellent service because I have money in my pocket, or in my bank, to spend.
    However, it is hard to remember when I encountered either of these attitudes among the workers there:
    1. “WE LIVE TO SERVE.”
    2. “When you say ‘Jump’, we ask ‘How high?’.”

    These probably still exist, but they are hard to find.
    In my case, I have worked for some engineering consulting companies, and both #1 and #2 were in our working vocabularies.

    Also, I have taught a lot of college courses, and my opinion, often stated to my students, was “If you need help in learning this stuff, then TELL me about it.” I also told them that if they could not come to see me after class or during my office hours, I was available by appointment, and that I would be liberal at making time for this.”

  4. I think the erroneous use of word deserve that you highlighted in your tips is not used as a synonym for “want” rather for “having the right”. Isn’t that so?

  5. Umer, yes you are right…I think Maeve was being sort of facetious…but people do thing they are entitled to (or have the right to) way more than what they actually deserve, IMHO. And then it gets to the point that whatever people WANT, they feel they are entitled to (i.e. deserve). How can someone “deserve” a car? Are people born with that right or entitlement? If so, wow, there are a lot of oppressed people on this planet!

  6. Deserve does get over-used and improperly used in a few ways. One is to mean “entitled to”, as in all people are entitled to certain benefits according to the law– whether they deserve them or not is a different issue. Or it is used to mean simply “have”. All people have certain rights. Whether they are deserved or not is something of a nonsensical question. Do you deserve anything you’re born with– a mind, a nose, a navel?

    DAW’s example of “deserving” a good education presents yet a different problem. Education is an outcome, not a right. You might argue that everyone deserves a chance at an education– though an entitlement is what you are really implying. And to say anyone is entitled to a good education is ludicrous. Not everyone can be educated well or at all.

    Best be careful and purposeful with words and reserve the deserve for those things that are earned and always deliverable.

  7. Venqax, I think that I was crystal clear that the statement
    “Every American child deserves a good education” is a fallacy.

    Why is it that whenever someone gives an example of a fallacy, you jump to the conclusion that the other person is advocating it in a positive way, and then you COMPLAIN about it?
    The only recourse that I can think of for you is that you should seek a better education. I think that you should tackle a course of study in a foreign language (one with a tough grammar), mathematics, and the hard sciences.

  8. @DAW,
    First of all, you are never crystal clear because your rants go on and on and on and on until we readers may, or may not understand your point – (or get so bored we skip to the next post).
    Secondly, Venqax is, well, deserving of his/her opinion, as well. So let it go. And don’t loose your venom because someone disagrees.

    Venqax, I agree that “deserve” has become the equivalent to “entitlement”. People, especially online, feel they are entitled to tell strangers what to do:
    For example, (I am entitled to tell you that) you should tackle a course of study in a foreign language… One with a tough grammar…

    Whatever. Be happy.

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