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I read that the word "Professor" means "Highest grade of faculty" in some contexts, and is a general term for many types (Associate Professor, Adjunct Professor, etc) in other contexts. Why would we take the term for the highest form of something to be the general term? Is there a name for doing this?

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    Yes. It's called "innocuous flattery." – Ricky Nov 30 '15 at 3:09
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    In AusE, the term "Professor" is usually reserved for those with a PhD, and in a position of considerable seniority and a formal position on staff, however in the US, the term "professor:" seems to be used more liberally to mean a lecturer (perhaps not even a senior lecturer) in a tertiary institution. – Cargill Nov 30 '15 at 3:13
  • I suppose that at some point the word Professor was (or became) a Title, but later was used more as a category or job description. Where these two are out of step, it seems weird. As if we called all cars "Rolls Royce". – user126158 Nov 30 '15 at 3:27
  • I call them jalopies, but, hey, that's just a matter of personal preference. – Ricky Nov 30 '15 at 3:55
  • Technically, the American usage is better, because "professing" is something anyone can do—any professional, at least. :-) – ralph.m Nov 30 '15 at 4:44
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It is a form of mild, innocuous flattery.

A Mayor-Elect (elected but not inaugurated yet) is still addressed as "Mr. Mayor."

Lieutenant generals, major generals, sergeant major generals are all addressed simply as "General" for the same reason.

And even veterinarians, dentists, psychotherapists and some botanists are addressed as "Doctor" by actual doctors. The opposite would be to address a real doctor as "Apothecary."

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    As I understand it, the word Doctor originally meant someone with a degree, not a medical practitioner, of any sort. PhD still means Doctor of Philosophy (I didn't know that Philosophy was sick?) regardless of the field it is granted, even linguistics. I don't see the flattery element. If some people mean highest level of faculty, and others mean most any sort of faculty, how is that flattering? I have a BS in Engineering, but people who collect garbage are sometimes called Sanitation Engineers. I don't find it very much of an ego-boost. Is there a name for this generalization of a term? – user126158 Nov 30 '15 at 3:35
  • It wasn't me... – user126158 Nov 30 '15 at 3:36
  • @nocomprende: In some fields, it's a tradition that goes back centuries. The flattery aspect is bogged down by habit. If you keep saying "wonderful" a hundred times a day, every day, it'll lose its connotations, emotional content, and meaning, (to you) in a couple of months. – Ricky Nov 30 '15 at 3:42
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    @nocomprende: I know. – Ricky Nov 30 '15 at 3:42
  • And even veterinarians, dentists, psychotherapists and some botanists are addressed as "Doctor" by actual doctors. The opposite would be to address a real doctor as "Apothecary." This might be a very specific US way of talking, but in my world, the only people who are addressed as "doctor" are (1) medical doctors, even though the may only have a bachelor's degree or two, and (2) people with a PhD and where they have become accustomed to being so referred to. – Cargill Nov 30 '15 at 4:26

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