Sunday, June 14, 2015


Personal Note:  My wife is recovering nicely and is being wisely cautious.  She expects to get the okay to return to light duty at work at her post-op appointment Tuesday.  Thank you for your prayers.

Upcoming:  I just read Theodore Dalrymple's In Praise of Prejudice, which puts some of my thoughts better than I could, and expands on others in ways I had not fully thought through.  It is a slim volume - 126 page - but I will likely draw a few posts from it.


A minor point of social expression turned more interesting as I thought about it.

Using someone's first name in a declarative sentence makes it into a criticism, or intensifies the criticism already present. As in "The meeting is at nine," versus "Jeremy, the meeting is at nine, " or  "The meeting is at nine, Jeremy." Also compare "Alexandra, men don't really act like that," versus "Men don't really act like that."

There is an air of command, or irritation, or reproval, which comes across in both speech and writing. Using an interrogatory or an affectionate name softens it considerably: "Jimmy? That was in 2006, not 2007."  Also, those who actually do have some legitimate authority over you can use it with less offense.  All very standard nuance, hard to teach. I noticed it because two people used it on me on Facebook, and there is a person at work who uses it frequently, to my annoyance. You can't easily call someone out on it, because it sounds stupid when described. It is your name, after all. People who use this don't usually recognise that it is an assertion of dominance.

They would pick that up pretty quickly if you used it on them, of course, but that's different.  They might not realise that it was the use of first name, and might attribute it more generally to your tone or attitude. As with everything else, I immediately went looking for patterns of who uses this and who doesn't. Spouses use it on each other a fair bit.  Understandable. Older people tend to use it on younger ones,  which is also unsurprising, though I imagine it gives more offense than they realise.

I hear it most from conservative men and liberal women, even when there is no political topic involved. That's a very interesting contrast to me.  There are more exceptions of liberal men using it, but the base trend is pretty strong among my friends, relatives, and acquaintances. Note:  I am more aware when people use it on me, but the trend I am describing is more general, including what I hear addressed to others at church, at work, or on FB.


Donna B. said...

Timing is good with this post, because I just gave a lot of thought to using a person's first name in an electronic written exchange. My decision incorporated a consideration of the demanding, irritated, reproval, and... oddly enough, affectionate aspects.

I don't think the affectionate part would have been considered if both myself and the person I'm corresponding with were not both southerners. Perhaps longstanding familiarity is a better description than affectionate. Though my irritation and reproval (and the subject matter) might have been better addressed with a more formal Mr. So&So, I decided my demand would more likely be met with the familiar approach. It's also possible, in the southern way of thinking, that the familiar would be more demeaning.

Nuance... oh yeah.

Texan99 said...

When you include their middle name, they really know you're laying it on thick.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My son saying Emilyadelaide to his oldest as if it is all one word just slays me.

lelia said...


Laura said...

I think that using the first name is a milder form of using an "endearment" like honey or sweetie-- which, I think, we've definitively proven is an insult when included with a command or a personal criticism, or when a close personal relationship doesn't exist. You might want to use that as the opening to discuss with your irritating co-worker.

Texan99 said...

What do you suppose would happen if you used the co-worker's name in response, not with any special emphasis, in a completely friendly, neutral tone? Maybe not, "Tom, I agree, I'll do that," which is a little awkward, but something like, "That's an interesting suggestion, Tom, I'll do that." If you matched him one-for-one, would it occur to him that it sounds a bit funny? How about, "Tom, good morning." "Tom, how was your weekend?"