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Getting there


AS MASSACHUSETTS LAWMAKERS contemplate getting into the casino business, their language is raising some questions for Geoff Dutton of Belmont. What are these "destination casinos" and "destination resorts" of which they speak? Aren't all such resorts and casinos "destinations," he asks, since patrons go to them? And since when is destination an adjective?

He doesn't mention the other new destination, the one that's more and more frequently paired up with wedding. Last summer, a travel-weary guest reported in The New York Times that "the share of so-called destination weddings, where guests are dragged to Hawaii or Tuscany, has increased 400 percent over the last 10 years."

(Jet lag and credit-card balance aside, prospective guests may have reason to resent such invitations. At least one wedding guidebook recommends a far-flung celebration as a way for couples to pare expenses: "Destination weddings tend to attract fewer guests, meaning you'll be paying less" to entertain the friends who do make the trip.)

And get ready for the "destination quinceañera": At Disney World, reports the Miami Herald, packages for the Latina coming-of-age party start at $1,800, but the top-tier "Belle of the Ball" wingding goes for $20,000.

It all started, as far as I can see, with destination resort, which had made its way into newsprint by the 1970s and was no doubt bandied about by developers and bureaucrats even earlier. In this special sense, destination implies a spot that supplies all your holiday requirements: food, lodging, and your chosen recreation, whether it's skiing, surfing, or Mickey Mouse-related jollity. Once you're there, you (and your vacation dollars) need no other destination.

(The similar "all-inclusive resort," which charges a prepaid total, has been in dramatic decline since the 1960s, according to Wikipedia -- no doubt because the fixed-price plan limits guests' access to unplanned spending, the most popular recreational activity of all.)

The destination casino, then, is one type of destination resort, a refuge where your kids and spouse can eat, drink, and play miniature golf while you gamble away their futures. And the destination wedding lets you marry, party, and honeymoon in one spot, eliminating the burdens that travel might impose on new-wedded bliss.

You might be thinking that such crass commercial uses are a comedown for destination, given its connection with the mighty and dignified destiny. But you'd be wrong. Destiny, it's true, has made a name for itself, hooking up with fate, fortune, and various mythic gods; but its roots, and destination's, are humble. The Latin verb destinare meant simply "establish, set," and the noun, destinatio, could be translated as "goal" or just "appointment."

The destination we know, meaning the place we're headed, emerged only in the 18th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as a shortened form of the plodding "place of destination." Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, commented on the streamlined new form: "The ship left her destination; but it is more usual to say, the place of her destination."

As for destination's new gig as an adjective, it's an old story in English. Nouns are routinely pressed into service in attributive, or adjective-like, roles: Think of boat shoe, pastry shop, baseball player.

And though the adjectival destination still has (to my taste) a business-jargon flavor, it's included, label-free, in the current Merriam-Webster Collegiate and New American Oxford dictionaries. Encarta still calls it "informal," but makes up for the slight by giving an entire separate entry to "destination wedding."

They may not be your idea of a good time, but destination resorts and destination casinos are undeniably good English.

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CHEW ON THIS: A reader wrote not long ago to complain that the word entitled, "as in the book was entitled 'To Kill a Mockingbird,'" made him grind his teeth. "Why do people feel entitled to use entitled in this case when titled works just as well and actually means what it is supposed to mean?" he asked.

Well, it's because they are entitled -- though some people wish it weren't so. From the '20s into the '50s, Emily Post's Etiquette told readers to say a song or book was "called" whatever its title was, not "entitled." Though Post's rule was never widely adopted, it found its way into some classrooms, and even now, Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage recommends handling entitled with care. "A book entitled X" is fine, but "he entitled his book X" is not "the best usage," in Garner's book.

Entitled, however, has long meant both "given a right to" and "given a title." The book-title entitled may be more common in the UK than here -- Michael Quinion, a Brit, uses it on his World Wide Words website -- but it's actually the older sense of the word, and standard everywhere. You're entitled to dislike it, but not to defame it.

E-mail Jan Freeman at freeman@globe.com. For the Word blog, go to boston.com/ideas/brainiac/word.

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