Friday, August 26, 2022

God doesn't think he's a doctor

I got into a back-and-forth online this week over using the title doctor for people with non-medical degrees. 

He's the issue for stylebook editors and  the tinpot despots who make style decrees for publications: At colleges and universities, the title doctor is in widespread, nearly universal,* use. But people who have attended college or university are a minority, and in the wider population, a doctor is understood to be an M.D. 

Or a D.D.S. or a D.O. or a D.C. or a D.P.M. or a D.V.M. (Those are the doctorates the Associated Press Stylebook approves.)

The issue has some currency because of the recent sneering at Jill Biden's being called "Dr. Biden." She holds an earned doctorate in education, but the Ed.D. does not score high in prestige on some campuses and is often dismissed as not a real doctorate. (One illustration of the snobbery among the learned came when I was at Syracuse. Someone caused a stir by obtaining and releasing the faculty salaries, and the provost caused a further stir by saying publicly that you could not expect to hire a physics professor for what you would pay a Spanish teacher.)

I think it's questionable that the Associated Press Stylebook should take it upon itself to determine which academic degrees are more genuine than others. And its decision seems even more questionable if it is based on prejudice or ignorance in the wider population. 

We are a middle-class, status-conscious society. When someone has sat through all those classes and seminars, slogged through all those articles and books, and pushed out some dissertation which, if they are fortunate, no one but their committee will ever read, let them have what little scrap of distinction society permits them. 

* A member of the faculty at Syracuse, a Chaucerian, preferred the title professor, because, he said, doctor was the title of someone making a living by probing people's orifices.  


  1. Back in the distant past of my college days, I routinely called anyone in an instructional role "Doctor," apart from those I knew to be graduate students. It is possible I was promoting a few, but it was generally a safe bet. "Professor" was more dicey, as there were many instructors, many with doctorates, who were not professors. This may be less true today, with the rise of the title of "adjunct professor." My recollection is that those guys were more likely to have some version of "instructor" or "lecturer" in their job titles.

    As for the AP deciding which doctorates count, they are being wild-eyes revisionists rejecting traditional English. The title spread to medical professionals, not the other way around. The sole exception I might make is if the degree is a juris doctorate. I have never seen a lawyer insist on being called "Doctor" based on his J.D., who wasn't a complete jackass.

  2. Indeed, my father kept his LL.B. (Bachelor of Laws) degree from the day he received until the day he died almost sixty years later, despite an invitation to turn it in for a J.D. degree. I am speaking here of Thomas A. Cowan, A.B., B.A., M.A., Ph.D., LL.B, S.J.D., so he would have been quite entitled to be called Doctor Doctor Cowan. I myself have no postnominals at allses, being a mere self-educated high-school graduate.

  3. I have a doctorate, in law, a Juris Doctor, J.D. But I only call myself "Doctor" as a joke. "Doctor Lawyer" is another obvious joke. I agree that "Doctor" is what I call my physician, and when I was in graduate school or law school none of the professors cared about it. "Professor" was all right, and if you knew them well, you used their first name, and they used yours.

    I am not impressed with a doctorate in education. Education is not a science or a field of knowledge. It's an occupation. You might as well get a doctorate in auto mechanics, and never work on a car. If your goal is education, get out there and teach. Sorry, Jill.