Kill The Honorifics

The Wall Street Journal is ending the use of honorifics in its sports pages. Meaning that they will no longer say things like "Mr. Griffin then dunked on Mr. Mozgov, balls dangling harshly on Mr. Mozgov's chin." No more "Mr." or "Mrs." in the sports pages! In other words, they will write like human beings talk.

This is a step in the right direction. If common sense were to reign in journalism, every newspaper everywhere would have stopped using honorifics decades ago. Yes, it's particularly jarring in the sports pages, where almost everything being covered is, by its very nature, trivial. But honorifics should be banned in every section. They're a journalistic convention that serve only to make the information being conveyed sound important and official, without actually doing anything to make the information of a higher quality. Like the journalistic convention of erasing a reporter's presence from a story he's covering, (i.e., "forces in a helicopter that had been shooting at the crowds, opened fire at a Western reporter and videographer who were filming a sequence on the latest violence," rather than "forces in a helicopter opened fire on me"), honorifics serve only to benefit the journalistic institution itself—by lending it an air of authority—while not benefiting readers a bit.

Journalism was once a blue-collar profession. That's changed. We're the first to stand up and say that the honorifics-using NYT and WSJ are much, much better newspapers than the plainspoken masses that don't use honorifics. But they would be better newspapers if they stopped the honorifics, and with the other outdated tropes of journalism that do nothing but throw up an unnecessary wall of language between the reader and what the newspaper is trying to communicate. Reporters know damn well that all of the little tricks they use to make their stories sound authoritative are exactly that—tricks, which make the news look pleasing to editors but which obscure from the reader exactly how much of reporting is guesswork and summation and inference.

Honorifics are undemocratic, authoritarian, relics of a classist past. Let's trash them for good. Sulzberger! Keller! Murdoch! Thomson! Do what must be done!