Monday, 28 April 2014

Honourifics, meant to show respect, misued

A minister, priest or pastor is not a reverend.

One of the most common writing errors in the media today is the use of what are called honorifics. They are words or phrases which are intended to convey esteem or respect on a person or position.

The most basic honorifics are Mr. Miss, Mrs. Or Ms.. They are, in the case of women, used to note marital status. The use of the word Ms. is common when no marital status designation is requested or needed.

Like it or not, it’s one way that we acknowledge a person in a civil way in our society.

Honorifics may indicate an occupation. Doctor, for a physician, Captian for a ship’s master or Coach for the esteemed leader of a sports team are common usages.

There are also honorifics used for the Royal Family. These often convey subtle distinctions in rank. Prior to her death, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was a different personage (and, I believe lower in rank), than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Occupants of a political office are also given an honourific when in office. Toronto’s mayor is His Worship Mayor Rob Ford. Owen Sound’s mayor is Her Worship Mayor Deb Haswell.

We can have some fun with honorifics.

Recently a colleague, a chaplain in the Canadian Forces, earned an academic degree called a Doctorate in Ministry or a DMin. This led to some good natured teasing. We realized that our colleague was now Major The Reverend Doctor Bloggins

We then speculated that if our colleague was to serve as Moderator of the Unitede Church, we would be addressing them as Major The Right Reverend Doctor Bloggins. The honorifics were longer that our colleague’s proper name.

Many years ago, at one of our United Church General Councils, I had breakfast with Anne Squire. Anne was, from 1986 to 1988, the first lay woman to be elected as Moderator, a position both of presiding at meetings and of spiritual leadership of the United Church of Canada.

I asked her how she would like to be addressed.

"Should I call you Dr. Squire," I asked, "Or something else?"

Without missing a beat she said, with a twinkle in her eye, "Just call me Anne."

All of this resulted from my recently seeing some serious errors in use of honorifics and religious terminology in one of the large Toronto newspapers.

Describing the Easter Sunday services at Aurora United Church, which had burned to the ground the week previous, the newspaper referred to one of the ministers as "a reverend". The minister also has a husband who "is also a reverend"

Then the newspaper had the ignorance to describe the Easter Sunday worship service at a United Church as a "Mass".

After I unset my teeth from being on edge, I realized that what it shows is the lack of familiarity with honorifics and Christian worship in ourt larger society.

The more appropriate way would have been to refer to the minister of Aurura United Church, and her husband, who is also a minister. If they had been Roman Catholic (with the obvious gender change) it would have been appropriate to refer to both as priests; never "reverends".

As for the use of "Mass", that is accurate for Roman Catholic Sunday worship. Protestants, however, refer to their Sunday observances as "worship" or "services".

I doubt any of this will change soon. But I have hope. Maybe. Some day.

By the way, the folks around my church call me by my given name, David.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County, Cable 53.