By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Wall Street Journal drops honorifics


Is there a Dr. in the house?

The Wall Street Journal is ending its use of honorifics, leaving The New York Times as one of the very few news organizations that still describe someone with Mr., Ms., etc., on second reference.

Editor-in-chief Emma Tucker writes that “the trend among almost all news organizations and magazines has been to go without, as editors have concluded that the titles in news articles are becoming a vestige of a more-formal past, and that the flood of Mr., Ms., Mx. or Mrs. in sentences can slow down readers’ enjoyment of our writing.” An exception will be made for “occupational titles” such as Gen., Sen. or Dr. As is the case with AP style, Dr. will be reserved for medical doctors.

The Journal also offers this bit of silliness:

Honorifics have dishonorable aspects in history. At the worst, some newspapers had a practice to use courtesy titles for white people only. There were also courtesy-title policies that were sexist: Some newspapers in the past gave courtesy titles only to women, which had the effect of identifying women as either a Mrs. or Miss; meanwhile, the format for couples was Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.

All true, of course, but if you use honorifics without regard to race or gender, as the Journal, the Times and others have for many years, then the problem goes away.

I posted a query on Mastodon and Twitter to find news organizations other than the Times that still use honorifics and came up with an extremely short list. If you know of any others, please post it in the comments.

  • The Christian Science Monitor
  • The New York Sun
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • The Blade of Toledo

The Post-Gazette and the Blade share common ownership.

Post-publication additions:

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  1. Tom Kearney

    The thing that annoyed me, and a major reason The Keene Sentinel dropped honorifics in about 1970, was that we had to ask every woman about her marital status —but not men.

    • Dan Kennedy

      You could go with Ms. by default, but even then, if you don’t ask, you’re going to find out that someone who’s nonbinary is upset with you. (Same with Mr.)

  2. Preston Forman

    The Standard-Times in New Bedford used honorifics but does not appear to now. Not sure when the system was dropped.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Now part of Gannett. They’re certainly not going to pay someone to insert Mr. and Ms. into all that USA Today copy! I think the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester did, too. Also now part of Gannett.

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