The difference between God and a doctor

The Baltimore Sun

God doesn't think he's a doctor.

Surely you know that ancient wheeze.

It comes to mind because the Associated Press Stylebook editors at the American Copy Editors Society's national conference in New Orleans last week restated their preference to restrict the use of the term Dr. to M.D.s and osteopaths. And, I think, dentists. Oh, and veterinarians. (Chiropractors can go roll a hoop.)

Why people who spend the workday probing into other people's orifices are more worthy of dignity and respect than someone who has mastered quantum mechanics or Babylonian cuneiform continues to baffle me. But then, I was ten years in universities where Doctor was a more common form of direct address than dude.*

I'm fairly sure that at one point at The Baltimore Sun we established that the courtesy title could be applied to any person possessing an earned doctorate. Chiropractors admitted, doctors of divinity not. But then, when IT allowed the lone machine that maintained the electronic stylebook to fail, and we recovered only an earlier, AP-centric version, we lost that.

I suppose that you can make the case that Doctors, the real ones, who hold life and death in their hands, fully deserve the honorific, even if they are merely transferring fat from the buttocks to the lower lip. And I suppose that there is a good bit of doctor-inflation out there for degrees in make-believe fields like education rather than the Seven Liberal Arts.**

But the whole point of a house style on courtesy titles should reflect how people use them. And if they are commonly in use, as at universities, it would seem to make some sense to take cognizance of that. Perhaps the medical profession will jealously guard its lofty status. But have you ever tried to deny a school principal or educational administrator that hard-won Dr.? I advise against it.

No doubt as we grow better every day in every way in our educational system, doctorates will be as common here as in Germany, perhaps issued with birth certificates.

Until then, Messers. Minthorn and Christian and Ms. Jacobsen, it ain't over. I shall return.


*Except, at Syracuse, for Paul Theiner, a Chaucerian, who preferred Professor, because Doctor is a term for people who spend the workday with their hands in other people's orifices.

**Grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, if you were curious.


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