Monday, February 02, 2009

Dr. Echidne O.T.S.

You may call me that if you ask nicely. I know it's a step down from "goddess", but we divines are often humble and like to seem approachable.

This doesn't work quite as well for Jill Biden who uses Dr. Biden while teaching community college. A Los Angeles Times media blog discusses the appropriateness of calling her "doctor", in great detail:

In 2007, at 55, Jill Biden did earn a doctorate -- in education -- from the University of Delaware. Since then, in campaign news releases and now in White House announcements, she is "Dr. Jill Biden." This strikes some people as perfectly appropriate and others as slightly pompous, a quality often ascribed to her voluble husband.

Remember Dr. Kissinger? The article does:

"It's a funny topic," Goldstein said. "Occasionally someone will call me 'doctor,' and when that happens my wife makes fun of me a little bit. But nobody thought it was pretentious to call Henry Kissinger 'Dr. Kissinger.' "

Maybe we should just call Dr. Biden Jill? That tends to work for women real well.

The L.A. Times piece is an odd one, because it grows horns in all sorts of unexpected places, spreading out into many different sub-stories. We learn that Jill Biden is the first spouse on this high a level who is choosing to continue her career. Then we learn that she wouldn't be allowed to use the "doctor" moniker in Germany, because her degree wasn't awarded in an E.U. country. Then we learn this:

"Ordinarily when someone goes by doctor and they are a PhD, not an MD, I find it a little bit obnoxious," Sullivan said. "But it makes me smile because it's a reminder that she's her own person. She wasn't there as an appendage; she was there as a professional in her own right."

Newspapers, including The Times, generally do not use the honorific "Dr." unless the person in question has a medical degree.

"My feeling is if you can't heal the sick, we don't call you doctor," said Bill Walsh, copy desk chief for the Washington Post's A section and the author of two language books.

Sigh. How much of all this is the fact that Jill Biden is a woman? I'm not sure. On the one hand, Dr. Kissinger got away with not being asked to heal the sick. On the other hand, we have a radio pundit called Dr. Laura, and while she indeed does have a doctorate it's not in psychology. Add to that the fact that "doctor" is the term many colleges actually apply for their PhD faculty and that many people, if not most, are fully aware of the ancient lineage of Doctors of Philosophy and such.

My guess would be that the article is all about Jill Biden not accepting to be totally covered by the honorific of "Mrs.", and that's what the piece really discusses, while trying to turn her into a gossip item.