Charles Moore

Is it wise for the Times to drop courtesy titles?

Is it wise for the Times to drop courtesy titles?
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The Times is changing its style of describing people. ‘We will no longer be according people courtesy titles at the second mention on Times news pages,’ say the paper’s new rules.

Thus Lord Adonis would become, on second mention, ‘Adonis’, and ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby’ would dwindle to ‘Welby’. Until now, the first would have remained ‘Lord Adonis’ throughout and the second would have been ‘Mr Welby’. In the old style, Severus Snape would have appeared thus at first mention, but become ‘Professor Snape’ at second. Now he has his professorship at first mention and afterwards becomes merely ‘Snape’.

This brings the daily paper in line with the Sunday Times. Is that such a brilliant idea, in print at least? Sunday paper style has always been freer than that of the daily. In a ‘paper of record’, it seems almost rude to call Theresa May ‘May’ or Sir David Attenborough ‘Attenborough’.

In an age when people are increasingly worried by aggression in all media, don’t ‘courtesy’ titles and honorifics (used within reason) preserve courtesy? It is that bit harder to insult someone if you know you must keep calling them ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’, ‘Ms’, ‘Lord’ etc throughout.

Besides, the more po-faced the rules, the greater the inherent comedy. I never fail to laugh (grimly) when hearing of ‘Sir Jimmy Savile’, and it is funnier still if he is referred to as ‘Sir James’. The phrase ‘Sir Elton’ is much funnier than just plain (second mention) ‘John’. So far, the Queen has escaped, but it can only be a matter of time before she becomes, after first mention, ‘Windsor’.

This article is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator Notes, available in the forthcoming issue of The Spectator.
Written byCharles Moore

Charles Moore is a columnist at The Spectator and former editor of The Daily Telegraph.

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