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. I have had experiences with university students who addressed me as “Mr. Norton” despite being advised in course guides and first lectures that I’m Dr. Norton but I’m comfortable with students calling me “Paul”. One of them also repeatedly referred to my female boss, the Head of our School, as “Mrs.” even though (a) she was a professor and (b) was not married. That student was done multiple times in one semester for plagiarism.

  2. Prof Q said:

    For anyone who is really worried about how to refer to me, I’m happy with…Prof Q (to my friends).

    I can’t say I’ve ever lost sleep over titles, although I might if I ever get my invite to Buckers. (Still waiting, Your Maj) In the course of this blogging caper I’ve been called every name under the sun. Can’t remember ever being offended. But I’ve got a pretty thick hide.

    These past 12 years I have consistently addressed the good professor as “Pr Q”, as a mark of respect to his well-earned rank, with an irreverent Aussie contraction to boot. This is friendly enough, without being gruesomely chummy. It’s early days yet, so let’s not rush into things.

  3. Hey, Doc, it’s about you. It’s personal. I mean, sheeit, I’m sure ole Henry Kissinger can call hisself a doctor of some sort or another. Tha’s why people get all f*cked about status and hierarchy, because it all l looks like the same shit to people, specially anyone under thirty. If you are being disrespected by your peers, then take em on. It’s the time for put up or shaddup, yeah?

  4. I’m an undergraduate tutor, presently undertaking Honours. Many students call me ‘Sir’ or ‘Professor’.

  5. I recall Bob Gregory referring to you as Mr. Quiggin at a public meeting or seminar. It was friendly and clearly caused no offence. Obviously depends on context – friends can get away with a lot.

    Most of my friends call me H. (or Haz or Harry) but, as in your case in a blog post, “Mr. Clarke” (or misspelt “Mr. Clark”) usually signals an approaching attack. Sometimes I get a respectful “Prof” from friends or a more deliberate (and exaggerated) “Pro-fess-or” if someone is about to take a light-hearted dig at me as being a bit of a “know all”.

    Like you I notice the way people name me. Students almost all call me “Harry” which I find confusing and a little uncomfortable if I cannot remember them.

  6. I could probably retire tomorrow if I had a dollar for every time someone has rendered my surname (either in writing or in speech) as “Stone” …

  7. Pr Q said:

    My dear Mr Quiggan…”

    You don’t need to read past the faux formality of the title or the misspelt surname to predict an off comment. The phoney intimacy of the prefatory phrase is a dead give-away.

    The only time I can recall this form being used in earnest was in the Roosevelt’s war time correspondence with Stalin. But FDR was a blue blood WASP and entitled to use an anachronism. Plus he really did want to ingratiate himself with Uncle Joe. You would too if you needed to be pally with a guy controlling 500 divisions.

  8. I saw this first on Crooked Timber so I apologised there for getting it wrong (using ‘ProfQ’ when not a friend). Now I think I’ve probably apologised in the wrong place! Perhaps I should add an emoticon just to get the triple whammy of wrongness (no I won’t).

  9. Like Jack, I refer to you as PrQ here, but elsewhere on the internet as Professor Quiggin.

    The ‘my dear’ was the giveaway of course. Much too twee.

    People getting narky with me typically go with ‘Franny’, though occasionally I have had ‘Ms Barlow’.

  10. When Sherlock Holmes said (apocryphally) “Elementary my dear Watson”, he was gently patronising his rather thick friend, and it was not malicious, just ongoing badinage. Nowadays, coming from an Anglophile with pretensions to superiority, it could just be a channelling of their linguistic atavism without meaning harm, though not in the example you gave.

    Fortunately in Australia we have less tolerance for pompous twittery: I liked Phillip Adams on Twitter last year: “Yet another Stephen effing Fry program on ABC tonight. viewers deserve Frequent Fry Points.” Watching the people on QI lap it up while the Cambridge graduate plays Master, instructing them in things he knows and they don’t, seems a British thing. On another British TV show called Eggheads, a bunch of ordinary looking folk are introduced breathlessly as “some of the greatest quiz masters in Britain”. Respect for their betters seems a given; maybe it could be a good name for a political party, oh wait. In Australia, being crass aspirationals, the counterpart programs focus on how to grab the cash. Esoteric knowledge is an instrumental value.

    I’ve usually found a comment prefaced by “With the greatest respect…” to mean “brace yourself, you won’t like this”; in other words, a quantum between “beneath” and “not much at all”, certainly not “the greatest.” While the phrase is conceivably a gentle warning that you’re about to be king hit, I think it’s usually a ploy by the attacker to get in a second punch: “it’s not personal, you shouldn’t lose your temper.” They say feedback is best not delivered with clenched teeth, if you want to keep the receiver onside.

  11. @kevin1

    When it is used in court, “with the greatest respect” means “you are completely wrong, and now I’m going to painstakingly explain why”.

    A variant I like is when the judge throws in an observation which betrays a total misunderstanding of the matters at hand – the response is: “Let me address your Honour’s rather novel approach to the law/facts/issues this way…”

    I like the saying: you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. No point pissing off someone you really need to make understand a point.

  12. @Val

    My previous answer (on CT) got lost for some reason. We may disagree on JG, but you count as a friendly commentator, so no problem with “Prof Q”

  13. Just skipping through the CT thread (peak Jesus?) I saw this from the same person, who also claims to be a disciple of Jesus…”McQuiggan”.

    Now then, no true Scotsman…

  14. Going across cultures have produced some confusion about my name. A student one time wrote the name of the professor in her “blue book” as Tampon Sampon. It might be a close approximation in her mind to my name Tapen Sinha, I gave her an F. Not for getting my name wrong, mind you. That was what she deserved in the exam.

  15. A blog post of mine (with prominent byline) was attacked by Megan McArdle. Mr. Wimberly was wrong. From amateurs, all in the day’s blogging. From a professional journalist, you think, <i)neglegenter in unum, neglegenter in omnia. So it proved.

  16. Oh dear i just read the comments you were referring to.
    Im a stronly committed evangelical Christian that takes the Bible as the inspired word of God
    its baffling to me that Christianity is seen as supporting free market philosophy.
    In the first 5 books you have the following laws
    1. You cannot permanently have your famipy own more than one property. You can temporarily buy a property to bail someone out of poverty but you have to give it back for free
    2. You cannot own slaves. Mysteriously indebted servitude is translated as slavery. The hebrew word does not mean this and is translated differently elsewhere. Also its a mystery why a verse is mistranslated “beat your slave for they are your property”. It was probably mistranslated to justify the slave trade. But they forgot to mistranslate the verse only a little bit later where if you cause any injury or bruising to your indebted servant youhad to let them go free. They also forgot to mistranslate the parts that said that slave traders would not inherit the kingdom of God and also how indebted servants are defined. You have to take a poor person in, give to the poor charity that came to a minimum of 20 percent (gleanings, a tithe to the poor every 3 years and 100 percent to the poor every 7 and 50th year) you had to charge no interest on loans. Everyone owned a property. Then if after all that someone still got into debt to you and couldnt pay it off they could work for you for a maximum of 7 years. After that they get a severence pay.
    3. Let this sink in, in the ancient world the only mechanisms for inequality would be acquiring more land or more slaves. Inequality is effectively banned in this system
    4. 1st century church offerings were based on alleviating inequality read 1 cor 8 to 10. Paul says “im not saying you should be without to make others wealthy only that there ahould be equality” so equality and not just poverty reduction is seen as a moral goal in the new testament and old!

    So the goals of socialism are very compatable with Christianity
    what about the means? The vrrse you mention and romans 13 give every indication that the means of taxes are not immoral. So why would it be wrong to acheive a moral end by means that are not immoral?
    the only out is unintended consequences. So the Christian is free to submit to the wisdom of experts -social scientists and economists

    I personally see little evidence that unintended consequences of left wing economic policies out weigh the benefits

  17. “Hostile and silly” (my italics) is correct. If you are arguing a serious point of evidence or reasoning then the argument should be pass or fail on it’s own merits. The convention of leaving personalities or tribal alliances out of discussions – aka civil discourse – has served us well and I think is a key and powerful quality of the western tradition of thought. (OTOH, if you wish to attack, please dispense with superfluous niceties.)

    The poster appears or wishes to appear to follow this tradition but it becomes immediately clear that this is token only, a rhetorical ploy, because he immediately follows it with a personal attack on your capacity for research. He doesn’t seem to understand why the convention exists. It comes across as smarmy and we can reasonably assume that this is correct and part of its purpose lies in his internal psychological superiority game. The inability to get the name right – that is, the inability to care to get the name right – really ices the cake, laying bare the insincerity of the gratuitous opening greeting, if anyone had any doubt.

    How much of this the poster gets is an open question. I would guess at the lower end.

  18. @John Quiggin
    Ah thank you ProfQ. In my usage I had moved on to “JQ” as being more friendly, in my mind, so there you are. It probably has to do with me being a post-graduate student (though an ancient one) as well – this funny academic world of us all being friendly and collegiate – and yet …

  19. On the point of honey substituting for vinegar, I have always quite liked Eric Hobsbawm’s use of the phrase “admirably lucid” to describe a comrade’s position when he actually meant “obviously barking mad”.

  20. The sad thing is that if you (JQ) were in fact a professor in my university (let alone god forbid my department) I would probably never have said some of the things I’ve said here. I have sometimes thought about that, with chagrin, but also being glad that you are far away in Queensland!

    Not to say that I have never got into trouble for saying what I think to people further up the hierarchy before. I have, plenty of times. I have to confess that one of my former colleagues in politics once said to me “Don’t you ever think before you open your mouth?” Oh dear.

  21. @Paul Norton

    Yes, good one, I guess he means “Now I understand why you say such things.” If the eyes are the window to the soul, the mouth is the window to the brain.

  22. Our Prof Quig,
    Who purports to be an economist,
    Hallowed be thy name,
    On Earth as it is in the Blogosphere,
    Slay us this day our daily Zombie,
    and Forgive us our Snarks,
    as we forgive them who Troll against us.
    Lead us into the pastures of Green Activism,
    and Deliver us from Sock Puppets.
    For thine is the wit, the wisdom and
    the Neoclassical Iconoclasm,
    more intelligent than Britney Spears. (1)

    (1) Who nevertheless has remarked “I know not everyone will like me, but this is who I am so if you don’t like it, tough!”

  23. I think I need to join Val in apologising if I’ve been out of line in referring to you as ‘Prof Q’ for quite a few years, despite the fact that we’ve never met.

  24. @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, … “

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. @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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. @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?

  32. @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

  33. 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

  34. @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.

  35. @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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