Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Discussion of Courtesy Titles and Names at FPR

A Tip of the Hat to Courtesy by Mary Vander Goot

There is this one school in SJ where teachers are called by their first names. I think at least one of the teachers was understanding enough to have the students call me Mr. ---. I don't know who decided that this was to be the custom at the school, the principal, the faculty, or both. But I wasn't really going to follow suit, since it is a question of justice.

It reminds me of one of my professors, whose children called him and their mother by their first names. I didn't really understand the reason for this, and I mentioned it to one of my fellow grad students, and she was puzzled by it as well.

It seems that family titles/names can be honorifics as well, since they remind us why respect is owed to our parents, grandparents, and so on--it is because they are our parents, grandparents... the rationale for other courtesy titles may be more obscure, and those who educate us should be explaining to us why it is polite to call someone by a certain form of address, so that the rationale is not lost to us.

In the comments section, Mr. Polet cites Toqueville, who makes an interesting argument:

This, of course, is a problem endemic to egalitarian societies. As Tocqueville wrote:
“In democratic countries, manners have ordinarily little grandeur because life there is very petty. They are often vulgar because thought has but few occasions to raise itself above preoccupation with domestic interests. Genuine dignity of manners consists in always showing oneself in one’s place, neither higher nor lower; that is within the reach of the peasant as of the prince. In democracies, all places appear doubtful; hence it happens that manners, which are often haughty, are rarely dignified. In addition, they are neither well regulated nor well informed. Men who live in democracies are too mobile for a certain number of them to succeed in establishing a code of social graces and to be able to keep it in hand so that it is followed. Each therefore acts nearly as he pleases, and a certain incoherence in manners always reigns because they conform to the sentiments and individuals ideas of each rather than to an ideal model given in advance for imitation by all.”
What was a greater contributor to the loss of honorifics here in the United States? Both social and physical mobility have had an impact in the last century. And I have no doubt patriotic Southrons would claim that things got worse in the North first...
Today I went to a school where I haven't worked for a year or so -- the secretary was unknown to me, and the other secretary, who replaced the secretary I knew, was absent due to illness. The secretary called me sir, but I didn't introduce myself; the secretary introduced one of the other teachers who was using a sub, but no one asked me to identify myself...

wiki: Courtesy Titles in the UK ·
The British system of aristocratic honorifics

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