Third Person Polite: In defence of more courteous reference
Why do academics, in their professional writings, refer to their scholarly predecessors and one another by their surnames only? It may be tempting to answer that that is the convention – “everybody does it”. However, while that is a compelling explanation, it does not constitute a good justification.
Yet it seems that the practice does require a justification because, on the face of it, it appears impolite to refer to people in this way. It lacks the personal touch and individualising feature of the first name but also the respectful tone of a prefixed title. It is thus unsurprising that most of us do not refer to our friends and colleagues that way. Nor do most of us use only surnames when directly addressing people, whatever their relational proximity or distance to us may be. Continue reading