Mr. Jason Gay, sportswriter for The Wall Street Journal, has just announced that The Journal this week will begin dropping honorifics in its sports section pages.
This means that instead of “Mr. Piniella, after kicking his hat and dirt in the direction of the first base umpire, then pulled the first base bag from its mooring and tossed it down the right field line,” we’ll get “Piniella,” without the “Mr.,” and then the rest of it.
The timing of the WSJ decision seems right as we enter baseball spring training season, and we wonder if the WSJ editorial style change, yet another concussion to the prestige of sports, will change baseball’s position as the country’s number one sport honorific – its status as the national pastime.
We briefly entertained the idea of honorifics here at the Toads blog (Mr. Dylan; Mr. Shakespeare), to pick up the slack, but Mister isn’t much of an honorific after all if you consider that it originally was used as “A title of courtesy prefixed to the surname or first name of a man without a higher, honorific, or professional title” (OED). In other words, to designate the bleacher bums. “Hey, Mister, mind gettin’ your dog out of my beer?”
The word Mister used to refer to one’s occupation: Shortstop Mister. But that shouldn’t mean that we need to call Derek Mr. Jeter. In any case, only in some special cases is the use of Mr., or Mister, or Sir, an honorific, for Mr. adds distance and denies familiarity. More from the OED:
1722 H. Carey Hanging & Marriage 8 Squeak: Pray ye, Mr. Stubble, let me alone. Richard: Ay its Mister, is it?
1888 J. W. Burgon Lives Twelve Good Men I. 440 ‘Well, Mr. Burgon?’‥‘Mister at the end of 20 years!‥I wish you wouldn’t call me Mister’.
1993 S. McAughtry Touch & Go xxii. 174 Well, Mister Bighead, we’ve both been there, Bucksie and me both, so up yours.
We wondered too if WSJ writers get paid by the word, and, if so, if dropping honorifics means a cut in pay, yet another blow to this country’s number two waning national pastime, newspapers.
Photo “Messres and Mesdames,” at Library of Congress.