Lexicography corner

Unfortunately, the word we need to consider today is treason. Here is your friendly word nerd’s definition:


  1. A betrayal of trust or confidence, as among friends.
  2. Also high treason A betrayal of allegiance to one’s country, its sovereign (in a monarchy), or its fundamental institutions of democracy and of government (in a democracy or democratic republic), as by
    1. Overthrowing or attempting to overthrow the government or its institutions;
    2. Killing, committing violence against, or attempting to kill or commit violence against the representatives of the government or its fundamental institutions, or their families; or
    3. Collaborating or attempting to collaborate with the enemies of one’s country, whether in time of war or of peace.

Senator Reverend Doctor

I’m seeing people posting their ideas about the order of Senator-elect Raphael Warnock’s titles. Prior to the election, he had two titles: Reverend and Doctor. He’s not a medical doctor, but he has a Ph.D. (as well as two master’s degrees) from Union Theological Seminary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raphael_Warnock). It turns out that the nature of his doctoral degree is relevant to the order of the titles: when the doctorate is related to the religious leadership, the more common order is “Reverend Doctor,” but when it’s not, then “Doctor Reverend” is another option, although Emily Post prefers to keep “reverend” first (https://emilypost.com/advice/professional-titles). Now that he has won his election, the question arises about how to handle his triple titles.

In German, it is not uncommon for highly titled people to preserve all their titles in formal situations, so that they may be addressed as “Frau Doktor Professorin,” “Herr Doktor Professor,” or even “Frau Doktor Doktor” for someone with two doctorate degrees, in English, at least U.S. English, there comes a point when most people say, “Enough already!” As a result, it is most common for senators with two or more titles to use only one at a time. After the initial excitement wears off, many will choose between addressing Georgia’s new triple-titled senator as “Senator Warnock” or “Reverend Dr. Warnock.” If you’re attending his church services on a Sunday, the latter makes sense. If you’re lobbying him, go for the former. Most doctors who become senators go by “Senator” when they’re functioning as politicians. But there are other options which connote greater respect. 

There are a number of senators and former senators who are also physicians, and most of them are usually addressed by only one of their titles. In fact, some senators change titles depending on the impression they want to make. When Rand Paul was running for president in 2015, his campaign website referred to him as “Dr. Rand Paul” in the hopes of inspiring greater trust than Americans usually accord to politicians. Bill Frist also opts for “Dr.” when he wants to establish trust (https://www.politico.com/story/2009/03/honorable-former-lawmakers-mull-title-020181).

Frist also sometimes goes by both titles, and in informal writing, these are hyphenated. People may address or introduce him as “Doctor-Senator” or “Senator-Doctor.” Frist considers “Doctor-Senator” less formal, and usually prefers it, but when he wants greater respect, he opts for “Senator-Doctor” (https://www.politico.com/story/2009/03/honorable-former-lawmakers-mull-title-020181). “Senator Reverend Dr. Warnock” would be the equivalent.

In the U.S., Black people typically receive far less respect than white people, and also far less than they deserve. That alone is a good reason to accord Senator Reverent Dr. Warnock his triple title. The full title here also reinforces the legitimacy of Dr. Jill Biden’s title, earned by completing an Ed.D. program parallel to the Ph.D. program that incoming Senator Reverend Dr. Warnock completed. So triple title it is.

Word of the Year 2017: Respect

Many dictionaries, lexicographers, and others who write about language are choosing a word of the year, so I’ve decided to join them. The Word Nerd’s word of the year for 2017 is “respect.” I define it below only in the sense in which I’ve selected it; it has other meanings as well, but I’m omitting them from this post, because they’re not the meanings of the year.

respect, v.t. to regard and treat with dignity, consideration, and honor; to recognize the rights and dignity of; to regard and treat as inherently worthy

respect, n. recognition of (someone or something’s) dignity, rights, and worth

Why choose “respect” as the word of the year for 2017? Because all of the major issues of the year have to do with respect and lack of respect. One of the words many people have suggesting is #metoo. The #metoo movement is about insisting on respect, and about looking at the many situations in which men have not accorded women respect, and in which people with power have failed to respect people with less power. #BlackLivesMatter is also a movement insisting on respect in the face of a stark lack.

Merriam-Webster selected “feminism” as the word of the year for 2017; feminism is the belief in, and action to promote, the treatment of all people with equal respect, regardless of gender. The OED chose “youthquake;” “youthquake” is about recognizing the worth and contributions of youth. “Collusion” is another word mentioned as a word-of-the-year (or “WOTY”) contender. “Collusion” means secret collaboration for illegal or dishonest purposes. In other words, “collusion” means disrespect for the law and for honor. Another suggestion is the word, “complicit.” “Complicit” means contributing to wrongdoing; involved in criminal or improper activity. Once again, this implies disrespect for the law and for generally accepted rules and norms of behavior.

Other contenders for the 2017 WOTY include “fake news” and “alternative facts.” To decry legitimate news and reporting as “fake news” is to show disrespect both for truth and for the fourth estate; it implies ignorance of the foundational importance of journalism to democracy. Similarly, the concept that one may reject inconvenient facts and substitute “alternative facts” shows a similar disrespect for truth. Both, of course, show the utmost disrespect for listeners and citizens.

In short, all too many of the events that have demanded our attention throughout 2017 have been caused by lack of respect for people and for essential institutions of democracy. May 2018 be the year in which demands for respect crescendo and achieve their goal, so that respect becomes a given for all instead of a privilege for few.

For more words of the year, see:

Oxford Dictionaries