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13.05.2009 Feature Article

No big titles here please

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What do such titles as 'honourable', 'esquire', 'uncle', and 'auntie' have in common? Well, they are all courtesy titles in abundant use. And maybe adding to political correctness too.

At Heathrow Airport, the other day where I met this Professor I know back home, I smiled to him as a matter of courtesy and said, 'Hi Prof.' as I came abreast of him talking to some friends.
Expecting that he will respond in the same manner, he did not. His response rather was, 'when we are out of Ghana, let's put all this Prof. business aside and simply refer to me by my name'.

Even though he said this in a friendly and jovial manner and which made everybody burst out laughing, it took me a bit off my guard. All the same, it gave me something to digest. On reflection, I thought he was right in a way. This is somebody who has studied so hard for many long years, published papers and books in the process.

He has not come by his academic qualification and consequently the title Professor just for the mere sake of it. He has earned it. Yet he prefers to be referred to simply as 'Mr so and so' and better still, by his first name.

Much as some may agree with the Professor about the needless or unnecessary use of titles, unfortunately, he and those who think like him may be in the minority. There are people who loath titles and get seriously offended if addressed without any. It is in the titles that they breathe the air of importance, a 'somebody', if you care to know.

In this Fourth Republic, titles have competed for and are still competing for space in the public arena, at Cabinet or in Parliament. At the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies big titles such as 'honourable' are in abundance too.

Those who are using it and those for whom they are used have no qualms about their use. For them, elevation to a higher political position necessarily means a big title too.

I have spent a bit of time digging some information and trying to trace the origins of the favourite use of the title 'honourable' especially for our political appointees and elected members .

My research confirmed that the title 'honourable' is a courtesy title used on the floor of Parliament to address Members of Parliament. It has, however, become part of a fashionable dictum in the introduction of personalities at public functions.

Sometimes you get people veering off and introducing all manner of people as 'honourables' at public functions and at a greater embarrassment.

From nowhere, the courtesy bracket has been extended to cover such positions as metropolitan chief executives, district chief executives, as well as assembly members merely for the reason of their appointment or election. Don't we glorify wrong and project it as a glamour?

To find out what we are doing right or wrong with the extreme use of courtesy titles, I have paid particular attention to details as I listen to or watch foreign news. I have also read a couple of foreign newspapers on line just to have a feel of how other countries are addressing their politicians.

I have followed our President's visit to the United Kingdom last week and his meetings with senior British politicians and businessmen and women. Somehow, one does not come across the use of the title 'honourable'.

Within this same period, I have meticulously gone through some of our local newspapers, listened to the radio, and watched the television networks just so one can prove a point. Mine. Radio discussions on political issues and call ins by some members of the public are the most guilty when it comes to the wrongful use of courtesy titles.

In American news whether on the Internet or on Cable Network News, they refer to their President simply as President Barack Obama, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton or Senator Edward Kennedy and the like.

Similarly, in the UK where they are playing host to our President, he has met with the Prime Minister and leader of Government, Mr Gordon Brown and Mr David Milliband, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

They were described not with any big courtesy titles. When their Home Secretary (Interior Minister) was in the news in March over some expenses, she was referred to as Ms Jacqui Smith and the Chancellor of the Exchequer during his budget reading was simply referred to as Alistair Darling.

Yes, it is that simple and straight forward.
Nothing complex and no tongue-twisting titles to weigh down one's jaw. We certainly can spare our politicians a lot of embarrassment by staying away from needless courtesy titles.

As the title 'honourable' mushrooms, one title that has gone under is 'Esquire'. When we were growing up, anybody 'honourable' was 'Esquire'. The abbreviation 'Esq' was commonly seen on envelopes and business cards. Today, one does not see it that much. It has simply vanished from our vocabulary or is it what some are now substituting with the title 'honourable'?

From nowhere too the titles 'Auntie' and 'Uncle' usually used for family members have become part of our official titles. At formal occasions, people are introduced as 'Auntie' or 'Uncle'. How ridiculous.

Much as one may want to sound as polite as possible, it is simply not right in formal communication to use the title 'Uncle' or 'Auntie'. It does not matter how old in age or higher in position, 'Uncle so and so' or 'Auntie XYZ' is not acceptable as a formal way of addressing or introducing people formally.

We are definitely a courteous people but the extension of courtesies by way of unnecessary titles is fast becoming too much. As part of the one seamless world community, we need to conform to acceptable standards so we are not left behind or become a ridicule. We certainly do not need any big titles here, please.

Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic, © 2009

The author has 236 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: DailyGraphic

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