My dear Mr Quiggan …

… so begins this comment on a recent thread. I don’t have to read any further to know that the subsequent comment will be both hostile and silly.[^1]

My surname is mis-spelt fairly often, reasonably enough in the case of people who’ve only heard it and have to guess at the unstressed vowel. But it happens surprisingly often when all that is needed is to transcribe the text in front of them.

Likewise, I occasionally get people addressing me as “Mr” because they feel the need for a title and choose the default.

Neither, by themselves guarantees hostility and stupidity. But in ten years of blogging, I’ve never seen an exception to the rule that together, they imply exactly that.

Is this just me? Do other bloggers and commenters find that particular forms of address predict the content of comments? And, if so, which ones?

For anyone who is really worried about how to refer to me, I’m happy with JQ, John (or John Q for clarity), Quiggin (in the third person), and Prof Q (to my friends).

[^1]: I’ve seen some silly comments, but presenting Ayn Rand as a co-thinker of Tolstoy and Gandhi is beyond bizarre.

42 thoughts on “My dear Mr Quiggan …

  1. @Megan
    Not just in court. Also used by NCOs in the Army when they’re about to tell a young Lieutenant that he’s an idiot – “Sir, with respect, … “

  2. Mis-spelling a name is frequently intentional I think – a not-very-subtle message that says “you’re so unimportant to me that I can’t even be bothered checking your name”. But at least you’ve been spared the next level of rudeness, which is a deliberate attempt to mock you by the use of “clever” word plays on your name (President Obongo seems to get more of these than anyone, although Bush got his share). I got a few of those in the Road to Surfdom days … usually let them through moderation because they tend to diminish the author far more than they harm the target.

  3. My dear Mr Quiggan

    I do not know how you are a professor, but anyway you purports to be an economist

    You are one of the elder statesmen of the Oz blogosphere, and more intelligent than Britney Spears.

    That makes you the great neo-classical iconoclast, and a green activist with a totalitarian mindset.

    You would argue under a pile of wet statistics and produces more copy than Xerox.

    It is said the odd Quiggan (sic) is good mental exercise; all part of life’s rich tapestry et al.

    having said that, you are “Wrong”, “incorrect”, “off the mark again”.

    So how can you be “Never wrong”?

    As a compassionate exponent of the dismal science, you provide an indispensable weblog.

    You strikes me as the stereotype of an Australian – joyful, hearty, and not particularly aware of your own strength. A “Krugman of the Antipodes”

    What surprises me is your chief delight is drinking cups of coffee at odd hours.

  4. @David Irving (no relation)

    If this is the case for the military and the courts – institutions where there are high expectations of formal observances – it suggests such rhetoric is not sarcastic but functional: part of the social glue which keeps the mechanism working to plan. In other functional contexts, where a degree of dissonance is expected and is even a positive influence on institutional goals, for example as “creative tension” or letting off steam, verbal rough and tumble is tolerated. Rhetorical style and functional objectives are connected.

  5. On Anerres, people, when born, are given a unique two syllable name, assigned by a computer. Makes it tricky for the propertarian cultures to keep up.

  6. I’ve had the opposite problem of being given the nome of “Professor Oats”, and I can assure you I respect real professors’ accomplishments too much to be comfortable with that. Of the two times I have been called this (that I can be sure of), one was derogatory—if deserved—and the other was probably a case of guessing high so as not to cause offence.

    As for my name, it is a perennial mystery as to how so many incorrect spellings occur for such a simple surname of Oats: Oates, Oat, Dats, Dates, Cats, Cates, and so on. Even Cox has appeared on one occasion.

  7. I wonder at people who misspell names and use the wrong honorific, when both are provided for them – perhaps being observant, like being objective, is proportional to intelligence.

  8. @Donald Oats

    I don’t really care, and neither should he, whether JQ gets universally “respected”; in my view it is a value bestowed by the receiver not the sender ie. if some fool goes for the man, which is more relevant, the substance of the comment, or its basis in unreason? I’ve often applied the “you can judge a person by their friends” test, and it seems to work. Not do they respect you, but do you respect their judgement? As shown here in the report from Rog, the commenter can be sized up eventually, though harder to sort when online as anonymity creates mystery.

    I am not a doctor of anything (just like GPs, who are usually B.Med, B.Surgery) and have never worked in the medical field, but once wrote an article for a prestigious medical journal. Ever since, I have been getting invites to conferences, membership of journal boards (all addressed to me as Dr), and am listed by as the author of what I presume is a fake article in the (real?) “American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacotherapy”. Huh??

    And the abundance of “adjunct professors”, and “professorial fellows” have devalued the currency for me. Yes they have experience, but….what does it mean? Can they either teach or research to a professional level? Does it matter? What do others think?

  9. @John Brookes
    that they are

    I count a dozen or so that I have found. All probably there for historical reasons to justify one thing or another. Whats mysterious is these mistranslations persist long after the historical “need” (for lack of a better word) has gone. In any case if you use blueletterbible or a good concordance you can catch them all

  10. More generally, I’m ambivalent about honorifics like Doctor and Professor, for a bunch of reasons. I don’t really even see much need for Mr, Ms etc. I think we’d be better off with full name (no title) in formal settings (eg addressing a letter to someone you don’t know), and first names thereafter

  11. @John Quiggin

    Ideally I’d also prefer to dispense entirely with ‘Mr’ and ‘Ms’. Maybe we’ll get there one day.

    Among other things, it’s unfair to force the choice on those who prefer to present as gender-neutral.

  12. @John Quiggin

    For new encounters perhaps we emotionally need the assurance of friend not foe for good social intercourse, so Citizen as a term of address (tribal and equal), rather than Comrade (too much baggage) should be unambiguous enough. It amazes me that the intonations of ‘mate’ range from fond to menacing. I was with a politician the other day I have had some differences with and he kept calling me Sir (was it spelt Cur?) in mocking deference.

    Elizabeth Pisani, an insightful writer on Indonesia, says in her new book that the Javanese language, with all its permutations when talking up or down according to social position, was rejected as the basis for Bahasa Indonesia in favour of developing the old Melayu language. The 1928 Pemuda conference where the new language was drawn up to create an anti-colonial unity was also a levelling influence. Honorifics are always used but consistent with respect, egalitarianism and friendliness. Tuan has disappeared as the oldies die off. They also fought a bloody republican and anti-colonial revolution after WW2, could they have done it without their new language?

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