Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Title's Better Than Your Title

We humans tend toward social hierarchies. You see it in schools (if you don't believe me, you were never a geek in a school run by jocks) and in the workplace (especially in the military, where the lieutenants get the coffee for the colonels, and the colonels get it for the generals). In almost all settings, we tend to show deference to those who are better educated, more attractive, higher in the social pyramid, or otherwise distinguished.

We often define ourselves in social hierarchies through the use of titles to establish our position relative to others. The military is, of course, the gold standard here: I was once a "lieutenant colonel," which meant I could give orders to "majors" and below, and had to obey those given by "colonels" and above. In the business world, the CEO outranks the President, who outranks the Executive Vice President, who in turn looks down on the mere Vice Presidents and Assistant Vice Presidents. Academia is also big on titles: a professor outranks an "assistant professor" or "associate professor," and everyone outranks a "graduate assistant" (also known in some academic circles as "pond scum"). Aristocratic societies like Great Britain have whole industries built around the precise definition of the social pecking order...if you're interested in the arcane intricacies of British titles, you can refer to Burke's Peerage and Gentry, which can prove invaluable if you can't remember where to seat the Earl in relation to the Baron and the Viscount at your next barbecue.

Some titles are downright amazing. I often drive past an obscure fraternal lodge which has a parking space reserved for the "Illustrious Potentate." Lodges and secret societies always seem to have great titles, like "Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler," "Supreme Lord of the Arcane Mysteries," and so on. I still like the grand simplicity of Illustrious Potentate, though...I can see myself as an Illustrious Potentate. Agnes might have another opinion, though, and the grand title "Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer" may be more relevant.

I started thinking about the subject of titles and honorifics when I read this article in yesterday's Washington Post, about recent enforcement of a German law which prevents holders of PhD's from nations other than Germany from referring to themselves as "Doctor." If you are a PhD from, say, Penn State (a fine school, by the way!), and you are working in Germany, you cannot legally refer to yourself as "Doctor Smith" - your business card can say that you are "Joe Smith, PhD, Penn State," but you cannot legally use in Germany the academic title you earned in another country.

Having lived in Germany for a number of years, I can certify that the Germans take their titles very seriously, and tend to pile them on: it's not unusual to meet "Professor Doctor Count So-and-So," whose wife can also be referred to as "Frau Professor Doctor Count So-and-So." It's not as good as being an Illustrious Potentate, but it's not bad.

And so it is that I sit here at my desk in my study, blogging away with the self-appointed title of "Fairfax County Curmudgeon-at-Large." Not as good as Illustrious Potentate, but it'll do until I realize my ultimate dream of world domination.

Until then, you can just call me Bilbo. It'll save time.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

6 comments:

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Just and I'm just a simple Music Whore :(

Have a great weekend :)

Bilbo said...

Andrea, to the rest of us you are more than that...you are definitely a complex Music Whore!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Here, a 'Mr' is higher than a 'Doctor'. Weird.

Mike said...

Mister - from dictionary.com - Origin: 1545–55; var. of master.

I usually don't titilize myself when ordering things. But the English magazine 'New Scientist' makes you pick a title when ordering on line. They used to have a drop down list. I was Lord one year. Master the next. etc.

Now the have a fill in the blank box. You would be surprised the titles you can create with their 5 character limit.

craziequeen said...

Good morning, Col Bilbo.... :-)

After 20yrs working next to the military I thought you had some military past - but so illustrious [big grin]

Our current boss of bosses is a military man with a Knighthood - 'General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue'. It has a fine ring and confuses everyone...

Hey sweetie, came by after seeing your idea on my blog - come on over and we'll hang you for free... Martin says it's fun!

cq

lacochran said...

I remember The Honeymooners had the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler (at Ralph and Ed's Raccoon lodge) and The Flintstones had The Grand Poobah (at the Water Buffalo lodge.) Wiki tells me Grand Poobah is actually a reference to The Mikado. Who knew? Hey, I get almost all my cultural references from TV. Thank god for Bugs Bunny or I wouldn't know opera at all. But I digress...
-lacochran