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I came across the sentence:

He has no respect for authority whatsoever.

There are only 3 potentinal meanings of the word 'authority' according to http://www.collinsdictionary.com since the noun is uncountable but none of them seems to fit into the sentence above.


1. Authority is the right to command and control other people.

2. If someone has authority, they have a quality which makes other people take notice of what they say.

3. Authority is official permission to do something.


I'll be glad if you find the time to answer. (:

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    Why do you think that the first one doesn't fit? He has no respect for authority, the right to command and control other people, whatsoever. – Helmar Sep 2 '16 at 11:17
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    Why do you have to nail it down to one of the three? Can't you get the concept by combining the sense of all of them? – Hot Licks Sep 2 '16 at 11:54
  • (Note that when a dictionary gives several definitions that does not mean that the word must mean precisely one of those definitions. In many cases it can have a meaning somewhere on the "spectrum" that is exemplified by the list.) – Hot Licks Sep 2 '16 at 11:55
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The expression, "no respect for authority" is a trope that, in its entirety, means someone doesn't follow "the rules" or behave according to conventional expectations or who openly and contemptuously defies the guidance of persons in leadership roles. The exact kind of "authority" that is flouted will always depend upon context. The expression works equally for "authority" embodied in persons charged with directing, commanding, enforcing, and so forth and for the impersonal authority of customs, laws, standard practices, common agreements, and the like.

  • This is good, but I think there's also a feeling that the person with no respect for authority may additionally show disrespect for specific authority figures who set the rules, or who enforce the rules, for example, a teenager being disrespectful to a teacher or the principal. – aparente001 Sep 4 '16 at 1:17
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He has no respect for authority whatsoever in the following sense:

  1. Authority is the right to command and control other people.

Here, he does not (like to) believe in (others') right to command and control other people (read himself). We are talking of a rebel here.

rebel (Cambridge Dictionary):

noun ​ a person who does not like rules or authority, and shows this by behaving differently from most people in society:

He was a rebel when he was a teenager and dyed his hair pink.

And consequently, he may also have no respect for authorities in the following sense:

  1. If someone has authority, they have a quality which makes other people take notice of what they say.
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Most probably, meaning number 2 is meant, though meaning 1 also makes sense.

For meaning 2 an example would be this: in most societies, there are people whom the general public respects and considers their opinions important, for example philosophers, religious leaders, authors of important literary works, statesmen who fought for a country's independence, etc. Someone who is offensive against such people may be said to not respect authority.

Meaning 1 also fits. For example, children are expected to respect their parents' authority but sometimes they don't.

  • 1
    Sometimes? That's being overly optimistic. – David Handelman Sep 2 '16 at 20:25

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