In Barchester Towers, Trollope writes

The clergymen of the city and neighbourhood, though very well inclined to promote High Church principles, privileges, and prerogatives, had never committed themselves to tendencies which are somewhat too loosely called Puseyite practices.

What distinction between the meanings of 'privilege' and 'prerogative' can defend this quote from a charge of gratuitous alliteration?

  • 2
    In common usage, I believe "prerogative" connotes authority, whereas "privilege" connotes impunity. – remarkl Feb 11 at 14:46
  • 1
    A prerogative is a right, whereas a privilege is an honour. – Weather Vane Feb 11 at 15:11

First, your skepticism is warranted, as at least one definition of each word uses the other word. From the Oxford English Dictionary for "privilege, n." and "prerogative, n.":

Privilege, 2.b. The special licence, prerogative, or immunity attaching to a specified office or rank. Also fig. and in extended use.

Prerogative, 2.b. gen. A special right or privilege possessed by any particular person, group, class, or institution.

So this could be an instance of tricolon (three items of equivalent length or structure listed) where two items are so similar to emphasize ecclesiastical privileges. Compare with The Gettysburg Address, delivered by Abraham Lincoln:

We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.

Dedication, consecration and hallowing all suggest treating the ground as holy or sacred through a rite, and so the tricolon has emphatic force through the repetition. It sounds like Trollope is creating a repetition here too, weaker in force, where the full perquisites and functions given to clergymen take up much of what the High Church does.

Otherwise the shades of difference in tone are small. Some prerogatives have a claim to being inherent or at least prior to others, like the royal prerogative in the British monarchy, defined in Merriam-Webster as

the discretionary power inhering in the British Crown.

The commenters associating prerogatives with authority or rights may be drawing from this sense.

Meanwhile, many privileges are granted, meaning that they come from some higher authority, as with this Merriam-Webster phrasing:

a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.

Again, this is a small difference and not a definitive one, touching (at most) the connotations of each word.

  • The piece in its context doesn't read as if the 'prerogatives' is for emphasis. I will give Trollope the benefit the doubt: he understands the words to have significantly different meanings.After more reflection I can see that 'privilege' is a state of being whereas 'prerogative' is a right of agency;a privilege can include a prerogative, whereas a prerogative is a privilege: they are different enough for me. Although hmm...the rest of the sentence pops a pair of P's more so it does take on a smell. I'll edit the question to put the full quote. – Stephen Boston Feb 11 at 21:20

Trollope is mocking the sort of language used in formal documents, such as, for example, from a university degree certificate :"with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities appertaining thereunto". The alliteration is not 'gratuitous', but is deliberate. His point is that the people in question wanted to partake in all the aspects of High Church observance, including, in particular, its formalities, without actually admitting that they were adherents of the extreme high church wing of the Church of England at the time, namely the Puseyites.

  • Ah! That's nice! Now, I did not mean to suggest that the alliteration was not deliberate. I meant the very opposite: that Trollope is deliberately pounding upon P-words without putting meaning in proper priority. But your analysis, that the quote is a sort of quote, gets Tony off the hook, yeah. – Stephen Boston Feb 11 at 23:22

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