Why can't everyone play fancy dressup?
March 20, 2007 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Uniform filter: So, the US Surgeon General gets to have a military-style uniform. Why doesn't the Attorney General also get one? They're both Generals...
posted by Dagobert to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total)
I'm not an expert, but the Surgeon General has military rank. I can't see that the Attorney General has rank.
posted by acoutu at 10:38 PM on March 20, 2007

From Wikipedia:

"The Surgeon General holds the rank of Vice Admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of the seven Uniformed services of the United States. Officers of the PHSCC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps are classified as non-combatants, but can fall under the uniform code of military justice (UCMJ) and the Geneva Convention when designated by the Commander in Chief as a military force. Officers Members of these services wear uniforms that are similar to those worn by the U.S. Navy, except that the commissioning devices, buttons, and insignia are unique. Officers in PHS and NOAA wear unique devices which are similar to U.S. Navy Staffing Corps Officers (e.g., Medical Services Corps, Supply Corps, etc.)"

The US Attorney General is the head of the Department of Justice. No rank.
posted by mmmchan at 10:45 PM on March 20, 2007

Neither of them is a general. The word "general" is an adjective meaning, roughly, "head" or "chief" -- think of them as the head attorney or the head surgeon.

As mmmchan pointed out, the Surgeon General holds a rank, but that's because they hold another position simultaneously.
posted by robcorr at 11:01 PM on March 20, 2007

Very Slightly Off Topic: As members of the Public Health Service, Center for Disease Control commissioned officers have uniforms. For your trivia knowledge: CDC "Frequently Asked Questions About the PHS Uniform"

The current CDC policy is for officers to wear the uniform at a minimum:

Each Wednesday;
On special occasions as directed by the LUA (Local Uniform Authority);
When addressing the news media;
When making a public presentation; and
When meeting with officers of other uniformed services
posted by girlhacker at 11:40 PM on March 20, 2007

Response by poster: Also, I note that the Postmaster General, yet another person with the word/rank, 'General' in their title and yet, no uniform.

I understand the law here and thanks to all for pointing it out but I guess I am looking for the rationale why they use the term 'general' and yet only the Surgeon General gets to wear the shiny stuff.
posted by Dagobert at 4:05 AM on March 21, 2007

Dagobert, robcorr answered your question above. General in the civilian sense is the word for "chief." There are no military generals in the particular branch of the armed forces in which the US Surgeon General serves, only Admirals.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:37 AM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: I'd like to note that the full term for a military general is "General Officer" (they are meant to be generalists -- able to command any unit, regardless of the unit's type, such as infantry, artillery, signal, etc.). I'm pretty sure that in this and all other forms of "general" used in this discussion, the "general" is an adjective, not a noun, and that's why you get things like the plural of Attorney General being Attorneys General.
posted by kdar at 4:56 AM on March 21, 2007

What's confusing you is the word order. Normally, in English, the noun comes after the adjective: a red dress is a kind of dress, a big house is a kind of house, an ugly motherfucker is a kind of motherfucker.

In some phrases, though, the noun comes first. A Whopper Junior is a kind of Whopper, a mother-in-law is a kind of mother, a court-martial is a kind of court, and an Attorney General is a kind of attorney. AFAIK, these tend to be borrowings or direct translations from French, where adjective-last is the normal word order, but maybe someone with a bigger clue can tell you more about that.

Asking why the Attorney General doesn't act like other generals, that's a bit like asking why your mother-in-law doesn't act like other laws ("She was never written down! Congress didn't approve her! I know my rights, man!") or why a Whopper Junior doesn't act like Junior Wells.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:09 AM on March 21, 2007 [12 favorites]

What about the Provost General Marshal, do they have a uniform?
posted by parmanparman at 7:39 AM on March 21, 2007

I agree with nebulawindphone that the noun is first and the adjective second, but in this case I'm not so sure that it has anything to do with translation.

The military (and possibly some civilian government organizations) usually have to keep track of thousands of items in their supply chain (yes, people are sometimes part of the supply chain). To keep everything organized, like a library's card file of books, the first word is the most important to the filing system. In this case it's very simple, the job is the primary word to keep track of, so it goes first and would be grouped with other attorneys instead of next to grapes or garbage bags or general anesthetic in the system. This was more important in a paper based system, but still relevant in the computer age.

If you had a roster and were taking inventory of your manning, it would be easiest when comparing two lists of people (on board an aircraft ready to be deployed vs everyone in the unit) that both lists matched as far as the order of the list. What if Zachary Anyname is also ready to be deployed. On one list, he is at the top and the other he is on the bottom. It is much easier to use the convention of the list that gets used more or is easiest to organize.

The more desriptive the name, the more important the naming convention (or the more confusing organizing the information would be without a convention).
posted by bugsoup at 7:59 AM on March 21, 2007

To add to what mmmchan wrote:

There's no such thing as the U.S. Surgeon General. Who you're thinking of is actually the Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service--that is, the chief medical officer of the PHS. There are also Surgeons General of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force.

However, in speeches, testimony, etc. (and even on answers.com), you may sometimes see the PHS Surgeon General or others style him as the U.S. Surgeon General. This is technically incorrect, and is an ego thing (and pisses of the other Surgeons General).
posted by J-Train at 8:40 AM on March 21, 2007

J-Train: while Wikipedia is certainly not authoritative, it disagrees with you on usage.

It is *damned* difficult, sometimes, to locate the full, formal titles of things, government offices not least. The meta text on the HHS website for the office, surgeongeneral.gov, reads as follows:

> Virtual Office of the Surgeon General of the United States, the nation's leading spokesman on matters of public health.

though that full title is not actually used in the site copy proper.

Do you have a reference suggesting that "Surgeon General of the United States" is *not* the proper full title of the office?
posted by baylink at 1:57 PM on March 21, 2007

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