Chiranjeevi was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Andhra University. He is an actor, so how did he earn an honorary degree if he has not contributed anything to education?

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    About "how did he earn an honorary degree": Honorary degrees are not earned. In fact, one uses the "earned doctorate" to emphasize that it's not honorary. Apr 16, 2018 at 20:08

2 Answers 2


The "degree" part of "honorary degree" is largely irrelevant. Honorary degrees are simply honors bestowed by a university, and they are considered degrees just because degrees are what universities hand out: a degree is the one distinction not available elsewhere in society. Honorary degrees do not necessarily have anything to do with study or recognize any scholarly accomplishments, even in the loosest sense. (This is true both historically and today. There has never been any strong connection between honorary degrees and scholarship.) Scholars can be awarded honorary degrees, but so can anyone else.

In particular, politicians, donors, and celebrities are sometimes honored by universities for entirely non-academic reasons. For example, in the United States a university typically awards an honorary degree to the primary speaker at its graduation ceremony, who is chosen for fame and speaking skills. The speaker might be a distinguished scholar or might have no scholarly credentials whatsoever, but an honorary degree will be awarded either way.

There's nothing wrong with this, and there's no reason why universities should restrict their honors to scholars. The only strange part is calling the honor a degree, but in practice people who care about such things know it's not a real degree. Honorary degree recipients occasionally take the degree part too seriously (by bragging about it or insisting on being called "doctor"), but that just serves to make them look foolish.


To explain it in a linguistic perspective, in the beginning there is only one meaning in the word "degree": an award for something you deserve. By calling the tribute to a non-scholar a degree as well, the word has a different meaning, and it becomes a polysemy. The difference between two meanings is large enough for the insiders to distinguish a honors degree with a real one, but small enough for the outsiders to be unable to make that distinction.

So by making a simple word become a polysemy, the university can gain more benefit without violating any ethic. In other word, this is a way to dance around what is right or wrong by applying knowledge in linguistics and psychology.


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