Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 138

H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 138

rigidly restricted to men who hold chairs in the universities, a necessarily small body. Even here a superior title always takes precedence. Thus, it used to be Professor Almroth Wright, but now it is always Sir Almroth Wright. Huxley was always called Professor Huxley until he was appointed to the Privy Council. This appointment gave him the right to have Right Honourable put before his name, and thereafter it was customary to call him simply Mr. Huxley, with the Right Honourable, so to speak, floating in the air. The combination, to an Englishman, was more flattering than Professor, for the English always esteem political dignities far more than the dignities of learning. This explains, perhaps, why their universities distribute so few honorary degrees. In the United States every respectable Protestant clergyman is a D. D., and it is almost impossible for a man to get into the papers without becoming an LL. D., 32 but in England such honours are granted only grudgingly. So with military titles. To promote a war veteran from sergeant to colonel by acclamation, as is often done in the United States, is unknown over there. The English have nothing equivalent to the gaudy tin soldiers of our governors’ staffs, nor to the bespangled colonels and generals of the Knights Templer and Patriarchs Militant, nor to the nondescript captains and majors of our country towns. An English railroad conductor (railway guard) is never Captain, as he often is in the United States. Nor are military titles used by the police. Nor is it the custom to make every newspaper editor a colonel, as is done south of the Potomac. (In parts of the South even an auctioneer is a colonel!) Nor is an attorney-general or consul-general or postmaster-general called General. Nor are the glories of public office, after they have officially come to an end, embalmed in such clumsy quasi-titles as ex-United States Senator, ex-Judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals, ex-Federal Trade Commissioner and former Chief of the Fire Department.
  But perhaps the greatest difference between English and American