When do we address someone by the term ‘Professor’? Anne Hodgson has just raised this and other interesting questions about ‘college talk’ around the world in her blog .
Americans have a reputation for informality. But there ways in which I think folks are more formal and attached to ceremony here than in Europe. One of them is the ‘Professor’ title. My impression is it’s accorded more liberally in the US than the UK.
I think it stems from politeness and positive face issues. As a Brit, I’m uncomfortable being addressed as ‘professor’ when I’m working at the University of Pennsylvania or the New School. It’s like receiving a compliment I don’t feel I merit. And I probably should know better because I realize it’s generally just a matter of routine. In British terms, it’s akin to someone at my bank calling me Mrs or Ms when they call me up. But it’s actually quite hard to think of British equivalents because I think we tend to use titles less in the UK. (‘Ma’am’ is another one I only hear in the US)
I wonder, am I’m undermining my students’ status when I say ‘Don’t call me ‘Professor’’? If their teacher is putting themselves down, might it imply that they’re getting put down too. Oh what tangled webs we weave.
Other posts on similar topics: