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Nomenclature

by Julia Sneden

The other evening as we watched the nightly television news, a skinny, young, blonde woman appeared on screen and introduced herself.

"Hello," she said cheerily, "I'm meteorologist Paula Glimp, here with your weather news."

I found myself objecting to the greeting on a couple of counts. Where else would she be but "here?" She'd hardly open with "I'm meteorologist Paula Glimp, over there with" or "Paula Glimp, in the television studio with..." "Here" in this instance, is entirely superfluous.

I also found myself snarling over her blatant use of the noun meteorologist as an adjective. My English teacher called such words "attributive nouns," and she conducted a one-woman crusade to stamp them out.

I suppose it's splitting hairs to suggest that Ms. Glimp might say: "I'm Paula Glimp, a meteorologist..." or even "YOUR meteorologist," or even simply "I'm Paula Glimp, with news about the weather."

Connecting a profession to a name goes back a long way to the days before people had last names, when it was necessary to tell apart two people whose first names were the same. Indicating what each person did for a living served the purpose. Thus there was "Lloyd the joiner" who was a carpenter, and "Lloyd the cooper" who was the barrel maker, and "Lloyd the baker," who baked. Note that the usage was NOT "joiner Lloyd," "cooper Lloyd," or "baker Lloyd." In those days, they knew better.

As the world grew more heavily populated, it became necessary to tack on surnames. Some of those names came from location (for example, John Underwood) or genealogy (John Johnson) or physical characteristic (like John Short). And some came from professions, simply dropping the word "the." Thus Lloyd the cooper became Lloyd Cooper, Lloyd the joiner, Lloyd Joyner, and Lloyd the baker, Lloyd Baker. After a generation or two, if offspring didn't follow their fathers' professional footsteps, they still kept the surname. Soon people forgot that the surnames once indicated a profession.

In this modern day, putting your profession in front of your name strikes me as rather unpleasant self-promotion. Sometimes, there are honorifics to indicate measures of high educational achievement, like doctor or professor, but those terms cover a wide territory. They don't describe what a person actually does. If a doctor or professor needs to be more specific, he or she can follow up with a simple added phrase, like: "I'm a pediatrician" or "I teach Religious Studies."

In referring to herself as "meteorologist Paula Glimp," I suppose that Ms. Glimp indicated that she has studied and attained some professional credentials, but somehow it comes across as a bragging attempt to impress listeners. It's decidedly off-putting. It also defines her entirely too precisely, as if that's all there is to say about her.

I find myself hoping that others don't pick up on Ms. Glimp's usage, and start introducing themselves by career. Just imagine having your hand shaken by someone who smiles toothily and says:

"Hello, I'm Proctologist Pete Bottoms." (a hand you might think twice about shaking).

Or think about answering the phone and hearing:

"Hi! I'm Telemarketer Johnny Sales. And how are ya doin' today?"

Or, at a cocktail party, being greeted with:

"Howdy. I'm Used Car Salesman Hy Perbole."

And what happens to those of us who have held several jobs during our long lives? Should I start introducing myself as:

Camp Counselor/Lifeguard/Babysitter/Mail Sorter/File Clerk/Editorial Assistant/Credit Assistant/Public Relations Assistant/Homemaker/Mother/Story Editor/Speech Teacher/Kindergarten Teacher/Playwright/Grandmother/Magazine Writer/Retiree/Columnist/Book Reviewer Julia Sneden?

My fading memory could never handle it. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. I doubt that anyone objects to the president or vice president being introduced as such, even if "President George Bush" is a good example of an attributive noun. I'm sure he's happy to live with it.

 

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