2015, October 25 | Sunday 5:31 pm

by Peter Samuel

How could I have made such a stupid mistake, and annoyed someone I like and respect… Slipping inadvertently into Ald Kelly for Alderman Kelly Russell when obviously it should have been Ald Russell or just Russell? (I’m referring to the piece on the Board of Aldermen vote to move the Taney bust and what happens next - http://reformhistoricfrederick.com/board-aldermen-unanimous-pro-slavery-judge-taneys-memorial-removed-city-hall-park-next/ ) It wasn’t an error of undue haste. I read the piece through RussellK2twice editing it before I hit the Publish button in WordPress. And I edited it a bit more as I uploaded pictures and did subheads and links. The eyes just didn’t recognize the error.

I’m not looking to make excuses but to speculate and explain. First, I’m much more familiar with Kelly as a family or last name or ‘surname’ as its called in the British/Australian world I come from. A Peter Kelly in Sydney and Canberra was one of my best friends in my early years of journalism and most of the Kellys I’ve known over the years have been last-name Kellys. That 2PalePinkAmarsWthdWd3c2325probably accounts for my slipping easily into ‘Ald Kelly’ and not noticing the error. But it doesn’t excuse the mistake.

It is understandable that Ald Russell should be annoyed at being referenced as Ald Kelly (title+firstname.) Title+firstname has a belittling sense to it. It’s mildly insulting, I know. Ald Russell is quite correct in noting that the polite and proper form of address nowadays is either title+lastname or firstname-only.

Which raises the question of how forms of address change over time and vary as between different cultures and contexts. In my teenage years (1950-1960) the firstname-only was mostly confined to the family setting or to longtime and very close friends. At school, in the workplace and in business conversation it was almost always lastname-only. The only exception to the lastname-only usage was in situations where there were brothers or sisters or unrelated people of the same lastname. In that context a firstname, or initial was needed to distinguish.

That remains the convention today I think in the military and of course in the courts, in legal submissions and legal rulings. Scholarly writing too has a pretty strict lastname-only, no-honorifics convention – except for the first mention rule of more fully identifying the person with firstname + secondname or firstname + middle initial.  After the full first mention its always just lastname in scholarly and legal writing. No mister prefixes.

bluepinkRedFls180wIn the British/Australian worlds I grew up in the prefix honorifics – mister, miss and misses (Mr, Mrs, Miss) were little used, almost never in speech. They were regarded as archaic, prissy, old-fashioned, over-formal. In that context the prefix honorific was sometimes used sarcastically and with deliberate provocation. In  my university days from undergraduate thru junior faculty I recall clearly that on the occasions anyone addressed me as Mr Samuel the mister was uttered with a note of sarcasm that presaged a challenge of some kind – the beginning of a harsh verbal attack, a start to a scuffle or fistfight even. However any use of the Mr/mister prefix was rare.

Exceptions to that were the writing/speech conventions for Dr/doctor and Prof/professor.

In the British/Australian worlds there were the monarchical hereditary titles of Lord and Duke and the Lady and Duchess terms for women. Plus the monarchies awarded title of Sir as prefix denoting some absurd medieval ‘order of the garter’ or some such, with the odd convention of attaching that to the firstname. In the Brit/Oz worlds children would never be given the same name as the father. Childrens names would often come from an uncle or grandfather or great grandfather but almost never from a father.  America had its own odd suffixes of Sr/senior, Jr/junior and the roman numeral at the end perhaps because to overcome the confusion arising from the same fullname in multiple generations.

In my world of daily and weeklies journalism from the mid-1960s through the early 1990s the accepted style was to avoid the use of Mr or a Miss in print. Mrs was to be used when there was a point to the woman’s marital status.

Of course the honorific prefixes have made something of a comeback. The publishing world that once dumped the misters is now split. The New York Times once derisively called The Gray Lady for its fusty habits has long continued the 19th century use of repeated Mr. throughout. Repeated redundant misters (RRMs) are also a rule at the Wall Street Journal. But not at the Washington Post, LA Times, or USA Today. Or closer to home the Frederick News-Post. In the UK the Daily Telegraph and The Economist do those repeated redundant misters (RRMs) while the London Times and The Guardian eschew RRMs.

As for me, I’m all over the shop. I won’t use the RRMs in my writing because they clutter the page and look wrong to my eye. But in conversation I’ll go with the flow, fit in…

- editor 2015-10-25

 

 

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