Honorifics and Creationists

According to Wikipedia, an honorific is:

a title that conveys esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes, the term “honorific” is used in a more specific sense to refer to an honorary academic title.


[I]n the case of a male, “Mr” (irrespective of marital status), and in the case of a female the honorific will depend on her marital status: if the female is unmarried, it is “Miss”, if she is married it is “Mrs”, and if her marital status is unknown, or it is not desired to specify it, “Ms”.


Some honorifics act as complete replacements for a name, as “Sir” or “Ma’am”, or “Your Honor” [when addressing a judge in court].

Wikipedia also describes honorifics in various countries, and they have a completely separate article for English honorifics, which discusses the nobility, royalty, and the clergy.

Many years ago, we read that the Wall Street Journal had a policy of not using “Mr.” when writing about convicted felons, and recently they’ve dropped honorifics altogether when referring to athletes. Most American newspapers seem not to use “Mr.” at all — or they so only rarely. The Chicago Tribune had a recent article on the usage of honorifics, which says that contemporary journalists regard honorifics as “pretentious, anachronistic, archaic, fusty” and a “clumsy formality.”

Aside from “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” and such when speaking of individuals, and the title of “Doctor” for physicians and those who have earned a PhD in their fields, or “Professor,” for those who hold such a position at a recognized university, and military ranks, the topic is relatively unknown in the US, and it doesn’t concern us much here in this humble blog. However, the use of honorifics when speaking about creationists who have a Ph.D. or who are medical doctors was recently raised in some comments, so we’ve been thinking about it.

Creationist organizations like the Discovery Institute, the Institute for Creation Research, and ol’ Hambo’s Answers in Genesis have some of those people in their employ, and they are extravagant in the use of such titles, imagining that they add an aura of authority to the silly things such people say and write.

So what is the Curmudgeon’s policy? Now that we’re confronting the question, the answer seems obvious. An honorific is a title of respect which we are free to use or not use, as a matter of personal discretion. When people support and promote creationism, regardless of their academic history, in our humble opinion they have forfeited any claim to academic or intellectual respect. Therefore, it seems absurd to use academic or professional honorifics when writing about their silly articles.

Our practice here is to entertain our readers by quoting, rebutting, and ridiculing the babblings of creationists. While doing so — aside from what may appear in material we’re quoting — we won’t even use “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Miss” when referring to such people. Our policy is to use their last names only, or sometimes only their first names, while occasionally referring to their supposed fields of knowledge by describing them as a “creationist astrophysicist,” or “creationist gynecologist.” At the same time we withhold honorifics, we also refrain from insulting creationists with pejorative terms like “idiot,” “ignoramus,” “fool,” etc. There’s no need for that — you know what we think.

So that’s our policy. Feel free to offer your suggestions.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Honorifics and Creationists

  1. I think it’s a fine policy, honestly. I’m not much for honorifics even for people I think worthy of some amount of honour, frankly.

  2. ISTR that some creationists would use titles for their supporters, but not for their critics, so you would get Dr. Hovind, but Stephen Gould.

  3. Some formally used honorifics can get to be ridiculous. Here in Canada a mayor, even the mayor of the small town in which I live, is to be addressed as “Your Worship”! That’s maximum silliness.

  4. david ambrose

    I agree, this sounds like a very good policy. I gt very tired of people being referred to with titles of a job post they once held; ie. Secretary Clinton. Sorry, but she was NOT any secretary since she quit being the Secretary of State after the first term of the current POTUS.
    Also, even as a former US Marine, I still refuse to call former generals by that title. Just my own personal view. You retire, your title gets retired with you. Although a PhD is a life achievement, I probably would call any such person I met or knew by that title or maybe use professor. FYI, I do not know any persons holding such an advanced degree, I’ll play it by ear if I ever meet one.

  5. Many scientific conferences “require” a registrant to indicate the honorific that is to be printed on the name badge. I have yet to see “none” as an option, which is somewhat irritating.

  6. We Dutch don’t care about honorifics. We are infamous for our lack of respect for authority.

  7. I mostly ignore them. If one says I am XXXyyy PhD or Dr UUUnnn My next question is what school? Cuz there are schools not worth a damn!

  8. An excellent policy, Your Supreme Curmudgeonosity!

  9. Not a single one of the PhDs I know uses the title regularly, only when being formally introduced at a conference or similar.

  10. I’m with david ambrose on the use of past titles. I have no difficulties with “ex-Secretary of State Clinton,” whereas “Secretary of State Clinton” is just plain confusing. (“Ex-president-elect Trump” would be a good usage too, whereas “Prisoner #21346” would be even better. He has, after all,committed criminal acts.)

    I have a personal policy that, whenever I see a book’s author listed on the cover in the form “David P. Spodblinder PhD,” I assume the book’s rubbish and have to be presented with good evidence to persuade me otherwise. Did we ever have books published as by “Professor Carl Sagan PhD”?

  11. Government officials often get to keep their honorifics after leaving office. Thus Ronald Regan was often referred to during his 1980 presidential campaign as “Governor Reagan,” although he had left that office years previously. Therefore, it’s legitimate, though a bit awkward, to refer to Hillary Clinton as “Secretary Clinton”–I’d personally prefer “Mrs. Clinton,” “Clinton”, or her full name, depending on the context.

    The proper title for a creationist claiming to be a scientist is “Quack” or simply “Qu.” as in “Qu. Hovind.”

  12. I always sign my name with Ph.D., but if anyone ever calls me “Doctor” I tell them to use my first name. Emails, professional meetings, doesn’t matter.

    Unless they piss me off, then its “Doctor” all the way!

  13. Christine Janis

    I use the title “Dr” whenever anybody asks me is it’s “Ms or Mrs”

  14. Christine Janis

    I meant “Miss or Mrs”, of course. Now for the morning caffeine.

  15. Many years ago, I worked for the summer at a German agricultural college. The department head was, IIRC, Herr Professor Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Schumacher. His wife, I was told, insisted on Frau Herr Professor Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Schumacher but my younger colleagues found it all rather ridiculous.

  16. Coyote: I agree. I sign my email and letters with my PhD, and of course when I went to scientific meetings the name tag always had my degree. The only time I’ve ever “used” it to any advantage was long ago when I moved to a new town and wanted a phone installed. In those days, Bell Telephone was the only supplier. I called them from a neighbor’s apartment and they said it would be three weeks before they could install the phone. Then my (ex)wife called and politely told them she was “Dr E’s secretary”, and that I had a new appointment in the neurology department of x university (that was true) and needed a phone. It was installed the next day! I’ve always wondered whether it would have been three weeks if she’d mentioned my degree was a PhD, rather than the MD I assume they thought Dr meant.