Elite vs Elitist

Aaron Sorkin’s getting a bum rap for his acceptance speech at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards.

In his remarks, the screenwriter encouraged his daughter to emulate the many well-educated actresses in the room*, saying

I want to thank all the female nominees tonight for helping demonstrate to my young daughter that elite is not a bad word, it’s an aspirational one. Honey, look around, smart girls have more fun, and you’re one of them.

*They included, among others, Natalie Portman (a Harvard alumna), Julia Stiles (Columbia), Anne Hathaway (Vassar and NYU), Laura Linney (Northwestern & Brown), Julianna Margulies (Sarah Lawrence), Kyra Sedgwick (Sarah Lawrence and USC), Julianne Moore (Boston University), Tina Fey (University of Virginia), Jane Lynch (Cornell).

Sorkin has taken a drubbing for this remark at the hands of many writers and Tweeters, who have called him “pretentious” and worse. But they’re showing their own ignorance by confusing the word “elite” with the word “elitist.”

Being elite, in the sense Sorkin clearly meant, is to be at the top of one’s game. Take your pick: Dictionary.com defines it as “the choice or best of anything considered collectively;” wordnetweb as “selected as the best;” the Oxford English Dictiionary as “choice part, the best (of society, a group of people, etc.).”

Being elitist, on the other hand, is a different story. This generally implies a person or group who believes they’re superior to others by virtue of their intellect, training or experience, and that their opinions on a matter should be taken more seriously or carry more weight than those of others.

Sorkin wasn’t advising his daughter to be a pretentious snob who thinks she’s better than everyone else. He was exhorting her to be the best that she can be. What, exactly, is so wrong about that?

Arlene’s career has spanned film, television and web production, artist development, content creation, and senior management for Fortune 500 companies and startups alike. She is currently the head of the Las Vegas offices of advertising agencies 87AM and Allied Integrated Marketing, which represent a number of prestigious resort, entertainment and hospitality clients both on the Strip and in Downtown and suburban Las Vegas

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