The Giving Word


miser: “A wretch covetous to extremity,” according to Samuel Johnson, “who in wealth makes himself miserable by the fear of poverty.”

ninjo: 人情 Japanese for human compassion, as compared with social obligations (see giri).

noblesse oblige: literally, “noble rank entails responsibility.” Earliest use in English, 1837. Honoré de Balzac referred to it in 1836 as “un vieux mot.”

At Lapham’s Quarterly, senior editor Leopold Froehlich created a brief global glossary of philanthropy, using language and culture as the lens through which we understand giving.

Michelle Vider is a writer based in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in The Toast, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Atlas and Alice, Baldhip Magazine, and others. Find her at or @meanchelled. More from this author →