Sunday, June 20, 2010

Honorifics



Indulge me for a few moments; I need to get something off my chest, as they say.

An acquaintance of mine recently completed the work and was awarded a Ph D in some field of science. I congratulated him, wished him all the best. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I suggested that all we unschooled peons would now be obligated to address him as “Doctor B-----.” To my surprise he agreed, quite adamantly in fact. At first I could not believe he was serious.

He worked very hard to attain this goal, he argued. Just like a doctor in a medical field, he should be given the respect due to him, just as it says on the diploma he will hang on his office wall. He gained a level in education, he said, but also standing in the community.

I was puzzled. I told him I could see that sort of respectful salutation from fellow scientists, etc., but certainly not from store clerks, plumbers, auto mechanics and the like. Certainly he wouldn’t ask it of friends in the pub, the guys he plays squash with? Any one who is aware of my degree, he proclaimed, to whom I was introduced as one holding such a degree, has an obligation to honor me, to show respect.

Shaking my head I slipped away, wondering how long this would last and glad he wasn’t a close friend.

However, that reminded me that I don’t like honorifics; not so much that they nauseate me but I have a strong aversion to them. Let professors be “Professors” in class or on University business; to me he is Sam from down the street. In conversation you may refer to a surgeon as “Dr. W----,” but I’ll tell you that I know Maria W----. In the office, with a professional relationship established, she is “Dr. W----.”

What’s more, it goes against my grain to use the everyday honorifics we use as courtesy. They are not inherently polite, but reflect a hierarchical social structure I would rather not propagate. Women were right when they no longer wished to be addressed as either Mistress or Miss depending on their marital status, because such status was irrelevant. They didn’t go far enough. They should have eradicated all such “honorable” forms of address rather than reduce it to a noise that is part hum, part buzz, and completely silly. Ms. “Mmmmzzzzz.”

The trouble with mister/master/mistress is that it is based in and continues to remind me of master-servant or even owner-slave relationships. I don’t recognize such and refuse to consider anyone my “master” or to be anyone’s “master.” On the other hand, I also dislike being addressed as “sir.” It too has that air of social distinction, of setting the speaker in a lower rank than the one addressed, obsequiously bending the knee and begging for a gift from a noble hand.

Most courteous honorifics are dishonorable. Even “comrade” as a form of address, as expounded by communist regimes in the past century, does not sit well in my mouth.

We had it as nearly right as we could get it at one time, I believe. In the late sixties, early seventies we addressed each other as “man.” A simple appellation and not necessarily sexist for a woman told me she considered it to be “apostrophe-man,” a contraction of “human.”

And let me tell you ‘man, it gets no better than that.




1 comment:

annaken said...

That was interesting today, Sir Jefferson! In this one thing we will agree. I have never been one to consider another person as superior to myself. Not that I think I am better than another, but we all are given different gifts and I respect each person on how they use their gifts for the good of mankind.