Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A President is referred to as such for life...
May 13, 2009 11:54 PM   Subscribe

Throughout his introduction of President Obama, ASU President Crow referred to him as "Barack Obama", without the honorific. This bothered me immensely; I feel that it is only proper when introducing a President to refer to him that way throughout.

I can't find any video of Crow's introduction, but he was referring to President Obama's focus on education and strides towards improving the nation, etc, etc.

Am I off-base here, or was Crow a bit out of line?

(Aside: despite the insane heat and it being a six-hour event, it was totally worth going to.)
posted by disillusioned to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
 
Tangentally, previously.
posted by SNWidget at 12:00 AM on May 14, 2009


Have you ever known someone whose name feels weird on your tongue if you only pronounce a part of their name? A person whose name has some inexplicable power to compel you to say the whole thing. Maybe President Crow feels that way about Barack Obama.
posted by stavrogin at 12:01 AM on May 14, 2009


The President, to Americans, is more than just the head of the ruling political party in. He's a head of state, combining many aspects of what in Britain would be the roles of Prime Minister and monarch.

Europeans have no issue whatsoever with addressing him as 'Mr. Obama', or by his full name sans title, because that's how we address our own political leaders. America is something of a rarity in treating its head of state with the deference that it does. Now whether an American addressing the President in this way is likely to inflame anyone's sensibilities I can't say, but it does have plenty of precedent elsewhere in the world.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:24 AM on May 14, 2009


I agree with how the Times and Economist use "Mr. Obama" after the first mention in a given article, but it seems strange and a bit strained to nix the title on and off throughout an introductory speech...
posted by disillusioned at 2:29 AM on May 14, 2009


I think Miss Manners is a good last word on this, since she's a pretty thorough etiquette researcher beyond just being a columnist, and before she was an etiquette columnist her journalistic beat was the DC social circuit.

Mr. President or Mr. Obama is correct, use of his first name in a formal setting like the ASU speech is too familiar:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20090119/ai_n31210714
http://lifestyle.msn.com/relationships/article.aspx?cp-documentid=8319041

Personally, I find it weird that Americans feel compelled to refer to anyone who has been elected president by the honorific for the rest of their lives, as if it's an office they never leave.

This isn't really correct American protocol – they are either supposed to be called after the highest office they held other than president (Governor Bush – this is standard for any public servant, you're also supposed to continue to call a retired General "General Lastname" under formal circumstances) or Mr. Bush. I have the impression that this stylistic shift did not come from the citizenry but from the US press, who unfortunately tend to push the envelope for being deferential to power.

Europeans have no issue whatsoever with addressing him as 'Mr. Obama'

The European press which covers the US president this way is simply using the less formal of the two correct styles, which makes sense since he isn't their president.
posted by Halle at 3:10 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a protocol breach, sure, but maybe (and you'll be the judge) his implicit point was that the President's focus on education predates his presidency. That is, this is an Obama thing, not just a President Obama thing.

Sounds nice, anyway.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:49 AM on May 14, 2009


There was a joke in an episode of Absolute Power, when they're helping with the '04 American election, about an American referring to Tony Blair as Prime Minister Blair. It's pretty much unheard of over here to give the prime minister title like that.

On the one hand, I think it makes an aount of sense to basically insist people behave that formally around such a person, on the other I find it to be sycophantic, and one assumes that Obama holds slightly less to the insistence that people keep up the formality... But I'm just guessing.
posted by opsin at 5:21 AM on May 14, 2009


Emily Post agrees with Miss Manners: a President of the United States is addressed as "Mr. President" or "Mr" (or, one would presume, "Ms. President," or "Ms.").

I recall reading somewhere that this is deliberate; that the use of just "Mr." rather than some more lofty honorific was in keeping with the idea of a democratically elected everyman president, and set the presidency apart from the pomp and ceremony of the monarchy it replaced.
posted by AV at 6:00 AM on May 14, 2009


Given the honorary diploma snub, it seems like it could very well be intentional. Which makes you wonder why they invited him at all.
posted by electroboy at 6:23 AM on May 14, 2009


I recall reading somewhere that this is deliberate; that the use of just "Mr." rather than some more lofty honorific was in keeping with the idea of a democratically elected everyman president, and set the presidency apart from the pomp and ceremony of the monarchy it replaced.

IIRC, when they asked Washington what honorific to use, he just said "Mr. President is fine" or something like that. At the time, it probably didn't sound all that impressive. I don't think "President So and So" is any kind of official honorific the way "His majesty so and so" would be for a king.
posted by delmoi at 6:24 AM on May 14, 2009


This isn't really correct American protocol – they are either supposed to be called after the highest office they held other than president (Governor Bush – this is standard for any public servant, you're also supposed to continue to call a retired General "General Lastname" under formal circumstances) or Mr. Bush.

Can you really call that the "correct protocol" if everyone does it the other way? I find it hard to imagine people calling Bush "Governor Bush." (Sorry for the continued derail, but this thread is full of them.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:35 AM on May 14, 2009


Halle: "The European press which covers the US president this way is simply using the less formal of the two correct styles, which makes sense since he isn't their president."

I disagree, I'd imagine they'd use their locally accepted styles. Are we talking English-language press, by the way? Because otherwise it's yet another can of worms entirely. For instance, I understand the Dutch convention for foreign heads of state is to use "[title] ([optional first name]) [surname]" for the first mention and merely "[surname]" after that, i.e.

President Obama of the United States unveiled a new plan today to tax having babies. Obama stated that because babies are expensive, they need to be taxed.

Replace "Prime Minister Berlusconi", "Chancellor Angela Merkel", etc.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:49 AM on May 14, 2009


IIRC, when they asked Washington what honorific to use, he just said "Mr. President is fine" or something like that. At the time, it probably didn't sound all that impressive. I don't think "President So and So" is any kind of official honorific the way "His majesty so and so" would be for a king.

According to the link above:

WHEN THE Founding Fathers came up with the title "Mr. President," they thought they had devised the ultimate in casual forms of official address. In contrast to the sycophantic titles used toward European monarchs, which they considered unbefitting a republic of equals, this would give the person holding the highest office no grander an honorific than any ordinary citizen.

George Washington had a different approach. "His High and Mightiness" had rather a nice ring to it, he ventured to suggest.


So, right on the sentiment, but it wasn't Washington's.

Can you really call that the "correct protocol" if everyone does it the other way? I find it hard to imagine people calling Bush "Governor Bush." (Sorry for the continued derail, but this thread is full of them.)

I think so. Protocol exists to be a ideally-formal guideline that doesn't shift much with cultural trends, and this isn't a formal time in our culture so very little formality is ever observed, but I don't think that means that protocol disappears as a result. BTW, I don't think our informality is a big crisis – when I say the ASU president wasn't correct, I'm not saying he did something horrible from my own perspective, just pointing out that there is a protocol and "Barack Obama" isn't it for a formal event like a commencement. But I don't think that protocol is like language; the entire point of it is that it is prescriptive, and that has its uses.

For instance, if I was the president of the university that got so much bad press leading up to this address, I would have been interested in following this protocol because it works to dispel the impression that ASU has generally low respect for this president, but maybe he had the opposite idea and thought that being familiar made him sound more friendly towards the president. I don't think it worked out that way, but I understand how it could be confusing since familiarity is a big virtue in most of US culture.
posted by Halle at 7:27 AM on May 14, 2009


I disagree, I'd imagine they'd use their locally accepted styles

I was disagreeing that The Times and The Economist are going against US protocol when they write "Mr. Obama", because they aren't. I agree with you that they are using their style guides, but I disagree with you if you're suggesting that The Times and The Economist didn't take etiquette into account when developing their style guides.
posted by Halle at 7:39 AM on May 14, 2009


[few comments removed - can we keep this pretty on-topic? thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 AM on May 14, 2009


electroboy: Given the honorary diploma snub, it seems like it could very well be intentional. Which makes you wonder why they invited him at all.

I doubt this has anything to do with it. Lots of universities don't offer honorary degrees at all. I know lots of people made a big deal out of the University of Chicago not offering Clinton an honorary degree when he spoke at my commencement in 1999, but it was just not U of C policy to offer such things.

To address the original question, I think the simplest answer is that he's still refered to by many people as Barack Obama. It's not for lack of respect, just ease of speaking.
posted by monkeymadness at 8:25 AM on May 14, 2009


Can you really call that the "correct protocol" if everyone does it the other way? I find it hard to imagine people calling Bush "Governor Bush."

I dunno about Bush, but the people around Bill Clinton still call him Mr. President, not Gov. Clinton, which would sound ludicrous.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:43 AM on May 14, 2009


Can you really call that the "correct protocol" if everyone does it the other way? I find it hard to imagine people calling Bush "Governor Bush."

I think you missed the point. Bush would always be referred to as "Governor Bush" had he never been president. Now that he has been, he is referred to as "President Bush." Probably a bad reference. Take any of your own current/former state governors; they will all keep the "Governor" title in formal situations. Same goes for Cabinet secretaries, congressmen, etc.
posted by BradNelson at 9:32 AM on May 14, 2009


But ASU does give honorary diplomas. A lot of them. And they specifically didn't give one to the President of the United States because he hasn't accomplished enough?
posted by electroboy at 10:53 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


« Older How do graduate schools view &...   |  Where might I find evidence th... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.