Of dukes and baronesses and scamsters

In September, Alexander Wood was in court for having posed as the duke of Marlborough (there’s a real one; I just checked) and for having run up a bill in the neighborhood of £10,000 at expensive London hotels. No one asked him for identification because they thought it would be “inappropriate to ask.”  I mean, this is (purportedly) a duke, after all. You don’t do a stop-and-frisk on him, and you don’t ask for i.d., even when he runs up a huge whackin’ bill. They did eventually get suspicious when he bought drinks for fellow guests—something I gather no aristocrat would do.

Setting aside this one person’s motivation (the article makes it sound, not surprisingly, like mental health comes into it), Britain does tempt a person to borrow titles.

Irrelevant photo: teasels

Irrelevant photo: teasels

When I went online to donate the money from our village fundraiser to the Red Cross, I was offered a choice of Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms, Doctor, Lady, Professor, Reverend, Dame, Sir, Major, Captain, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, Sister, Lord, Canon, and Other. Oh, wheee! I lost my nerve before finding out whether Other would have given me a blank space to fill in the title of my choice, but I expect it would have.

As an aside, I was once called a dame, but no one mistook me for an aristocrat and no hotel bill was involved. And it wasn’t a compliment.

The Guardian’s subscription form despairs of coming up with a complete list and just leaves a blank line, where you can play as much as you dare. You want to be a general, or the Lord Mayor of Mill Crick? Feel free. Then sit back and see if your correspondence is addressed appropriately. And complain when it isn’t.

Why the blank instead of the list? I can’t help picturing some committee trying to list everything necessary to this title-obsessed land and sinking under the weight of the task. Why, for example, include Colonel but not General? And since this is the Guardian, a generally leftish and egalitarian paper, what about Private? Don’t privates deserve the respect of their title? And since the women members of the House of Lords are addressed as Baroness (something I happen to know because I’ve written letters to a fair few of them, and there’s a tale of its own), doesn’t that merit a mention? Or does Lady cover it? I haven’t a clue. If they’re Lady Whatsit, even though you address them as Baroness, what do they address themselves as? And what about the Barons? The male members of the House of Lords are Lords, not Barons. No, I don’t understand it either. But there are real barons out there, aren’t there? Granted, they probably don’t read the Guardian, but what if they wanted to?

And what about all the Lord Mayors dotted around the country. And the Counsellors: Spare a moment’s thought for all those long-suffering folks who sit on Parish Councils around the country, doing their unpaid and non-party-political bit for the most local level of local government? And Citizen. It was a popular title during the French Revolution. Give it half a chance and it could catch on again.

You can see the problem. Either the committee voted for the blank line and fled or else they’re still meeting, trying to complete the list, sinking deeper into despair with every passing week. Several of its members have been hospitalized for stress and clinical-level nit-picking.

This is what happens in a status-obsessed society. Everyone with a title needs to be recognized, placated, bowed to even.

And on the lowest level, where the rest of us live our lives? I still can’t get myself called Ms. Instead of Mrs.  No matter how often and politely I ask.

73 thoughts on “Of dukes and baronesses and scamsters

  1. I bought some kids clothes from a UK store (Boden) on line and I still get email from them addressed to Field Marshall Karen.

    Regarding the miss and missus–and I know you’ve written about this before, and I know I commented on it before, but apparently I have more to say. When I was fresh out of college, I wound up teaching a work/life skills class in Philadelphia to a bunch of folks who struggled with life and work and were all much older than me. Anyway, they all called me “Miss Karen” and it absolutely discombobulated me, and no matter how much pleading, they would not stop. I was forever “Miss Karen.” I hear this is a Southern thing, and one would not think of Philadelphia as part of the South, but the Mason Dixon line is only fifteen miles away, and the practice of calling women “Miss First Name” is a way to show respect (I think. What do I know? I was brought up in disrespectful New England).

    Anyway, I’m thinking about all those Masterpiece Theater dramas where the housekeeper addresses all women of a certain age as “missus” even though the women are unmarried. The title is not meant to reveal marital status, just to show respect. Like Madame and Mademoiselle in France (I think). And I’m thinking I’ve probably reached the age where, if I were to teach that class in Philadelphia today, they’d be calling me “Missus Karen” without even knowing whether I’m married or not.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Miss (or Miz) Karen is a sign of respect that, I believe, will hold regardless of age or marital status. It’s common in both the South and the Black community. And it sounds like having been given the title, you’re stuck with it. Although I do kind of like Field Marshall. How’d you get that? Were you near the Marshall Field store?

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      • And then you get into an academic arena, and you dare not call a Ph D a plain Mr/Ms, let alone a Professor, merely Dr. When I was working with a university and travelled with a dear colleague from Australia, and who was not an academic, and whose job necessitated his becoming a regular at many of the hotels where we stayed, I used to get an enormous kick out of the staff referring to him as “Dr So-and-so”, while his esteemed academic colleagues, including pro- and vice chancellors were addressed as “Mr”. Some would be apoplectic. Lol

        I, too, have given up on willy-nilly being call “Mrs”. I do, however, resent not being called by my full last name which is double-barrelled with my husband’s. I admit that if the unsuspecting individual has irked me, I inform them, acidly, that I’m not Mrs Blah, because she is my husband’s ex-wife. That said, in Africa, my maiden name is often confused with an African country, which patently, I am not. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

          • It is. And as for the pronunciation (and spelling), there we shall have to agree to differ… As long as we have a modicum of understanding, I try not to get too het up about that…. Sometimes, though, the purist “nazi” in me does emerge :)

            Liked by 1 person

            • That’s wise, I’m sure. My last name doesn’t lend itself to a whole lot of mispronunciations (Howly’s the most common one), but I have known people who are just driven up the wall by hearing their name mangled.

              Liked by 1 person

      • No–“Field Marshall” is one of the options in the Title drop down menu when you fill in the order form. “Wing Commander” is also there. I thought it was a jokey, clever thing this trendy retailer was doing, but apparently it’s a British thing, I guess? Here’s a link to the order form, and you’ll find a slew of choices for Title: https://checkout.bodenusa.com/en-US/

        Liked by 1 person

    • One of the things I’ve found a bit discombobulating since emigrating to America (and I’m coincidentally in the Philly suburbs) is that children are instructed to address me as “Miss Laura” and some adults address me as “ma’am”. I, of course, take it the way it is intended, as a signifier of respect, but it’s just so alien to me and has connotations of class superciliousness that are not part of the context here but feel that way from my UK perspective.

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      • Most American women over a certain vaguely defined age have a story about the first time they were called ma’am. But you’re right, it’s not about class, it’s about age. I would once have sworn it was only Southern and Black, but I’ve been ma’am’d be white Midwesterners. I haven’t a clue what that means. Except that I’m (well) above that certain age.

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      • My kids’ friends always call me by my husband’s last name, which is not my last name, but whatever. I tried to get them to call me Karen, but that was weird, too, so now I just roll with it, and usually respond to that name, after a moment for me to realize hey! They’re talking to me when they say “Mrs. HisLastName.”

        Liked by 3 people

  2. It’s been a rare occasion that I’ve managed to get an organization to address me as Ms (I am married but prefer the neutral status). I don’t know why they offer it as an option if they are going to choose to ignore it. I like the idea of being “citizen”. At least I can pass for a citizen whereas I think had I tried the aristocrat ruse I would have been rumbled as soon as I opened my mouth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll just go with ‘Dan’ thank you very much. Reader Dan if you insist on me having a title. the thing that makes me shake my head over here, is the way some folks put everything ever bestowed upon them, after their name. Degrees and certifications, half of which make no sense to me, all seem to get tacked on. Maybe I should spend less time on LinkedIn. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pleb will do for me, thanks.
    I don’t mind being Mrs. Ms. or Miss, I even prefer Ma’am when addressed by a handsome fella.
    Ms Joey for a long time now, Ms Joey always sounds warm and welcoming.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I order wooden puzzles from UK from time to time. I always choose “Her Royal Highness”. Sad to say none of the packages have acknowledged that Joan Stockinger, is in fact a Her Royal Highness. Ellen, can you explain that?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A certain airline here has one of those dropdown title selectors so I picked “Other” and filled in “Goddess”. Apparently they didn’t feel the need to worship me though because my ticket read “Other Barb Taub”. The lady at the check-in desk said they get that a lot and printed another ticket.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Oh, you’re not wrong. Last summer I changed from Miss to Doctor. A few months ago my tablet developed a fault, and I took it back in to John Lewis to exchange it for a new one (under guarantee). The customer services department insisted that I had no guarantee with them, even after I produced the paperwork, and wanted nothing to do with my complaint. After insisting that I wanted to invoke my rights under the guarantee, the lady behind the desk took my details and sneered “What’s your title, are you Mrs or are you still plain Miss?” When I told her I was Doctor, the horror on her face was a picture (seriously, I wish I’d taken a photo). She then proceeded to grovel in the most embarrassing manner… I was really quite revolted by her behavior, and I did make the point that she should not have two levels of customer service for people based on whether they have a title or not. I haven’t shopped at John Lewis since!
    (sorry, that was a long anecdote, wasn’t it?)

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Years ago I worked for a software company called CAP (Computer Analysts and Programmers). In those days you could subscribe to free magazines about computing, and one of our employees, a Mr Henson had done just that. However, he must have filled in the application form in the wrong order – it was one of those forms where you have to enter each letter in a separate box, so the whole thing could be punched in to the publishing house’s computer that managed the subscriptions. So back to the office came an acknowledgment of Mr Henson’s subscription request, addressed to “CAP, Henson, , .” And the letter inside it started with “Dear Captain Henson,….”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. can’t wait for the explanation of why you wrote to a number of women Members of the House of Lords… ? As I’m you’re going-off-on-a-tangent friend, I highly recommend Boris Johnson’s “The Churchill Factor” despite it’s being a bestseller – Churchill was ducal Malborough family and character, something I’d never realised….

    Liked by 1 person

    • It all had to do with a campaign against the bill reorganizing the National Health Service (it passed), which not only wasted billions of pounds on a massive and messy reorganization but opened it to industrial-scale privatization and has left it badly fragmented. At one point, the bill was being debated in the Lords and a group of us split up the list of members (“Okay, I’ll take A through F…”) and wrote to as many of them as we had any hope of influencing. It led me into an extended and fairly bizarre correspondence with one Baroness. Toward the end, I really wanted to ask, “Don’t you have a country to run or something?”

      The best part of it was that when you write to the men in the House of Lords, you open the letter “Dear Lord.” But you have to imagine that said in a sort of groan, with my head resting on one hand.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I have heard that when a very down-to-earth Labour politician was going to be made a member of the House of Lords he was asked what title he wanted and he proposed Lord Love-a-Duck. Which might have made him his duckship instead of his lordship, but who am I to criticize?

      Liked by 2 people

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