1

This is perhaps more of a culture question than a language question, but since it is about English usage, I hope it is OK to ask it here.

I'm not American, but I've visited a few American companies where everybody was on first name terms with everybody else.

Now I've see a few episodes of the American TV series "Bones" which takes place in a scientific lab. There, everybody addresses everybody else as "Dr. so-and-so" (or in rare cases "Mr./Ms. so-and-so" if the poor guy doesn't have a PhD.).

This usage seems very unnatural to me compared with my own (very limited) experience with the way people talk together in an American company.

So, is the TV series completely wrong, or is my experience unsual?

  • 1
    Anecdotally, this will depend on the particular culture of the organization. Generally, when visible to the public, medical professionals do seem to use titles rather than just names; in military and paramilitary organizations (like the police), rank titles are used, often without names, when speaking to superior ranks, but names - often bare surnames - are used when addressing inferior ranks. Corporate culture varies; some are on a first-name basis across the board, some are "Mr. Smith" to superiors but "Joe" to inferiors, some are titles across the board. – Jeff Zeitlin Dec 16 '17 at 21:17
  • 4
    I haven't seen the series, but you should realize that TV shows have to make things clear to very ignorant viewers, so putting the PhDs up front in the dialog makes it easier for them. The writers are not attempting to represent real life, and they don't represent real life -- this is fiction, and so is its language, which is made up by writers instead of people who work in a normal workplace. Don't be misled. – John Lawler Dec 16 '17 at 21:18
  • 3
    That said, I can add that over 50 years of working in American academic settings (university, college, professors, students, administrators, techs, etc.), everybody possible is on a first name basis as soon as possible after being introduced. People you see every day are first-named unless there is a clear power/status thing going on; in academic life there's plenty of that, too, but it doesn't manifest itself in titles, except at the very low end of the scale. At a major research university Dr. is assumed and never mentioned, and Prof is polite when introduced, but it doesn't last. – John Lawler Dec 16 '17 at 21:22
  • Thank you for your comments, @JohnLawler. If you would turn your comment into an answer, I will acknowledge it as an answer to my question. – oz1cz Dec 17 '17 at 11:18
  • 1
    When I left school in 1973 hardly anyone thought to call either a stranger or a superior by his first name. By about 1975, the only person in my department called anything but his first name was Doc because he had one. The last time people I worked with referred to a senior by his surname was somewhat before 1985 when one, and only one senior was Mr Soul, which led the entire staff who called each other by first name to refer to him as Kipper… What changed around 1974-5 I’ve often wondered and I do think that’s a major watershed. – Robbie Goodwin Dec 18 '17 at 22:02
0

1 A show about forensic anthropology featuring interaction between the FBI and the "Jeffersonian Institute" (meant to be the Smithsonian) hardly mirrors the average American workplace;

2 the character of Bones very much lacks social graces and is presented as one who (seemingly) can't empathize;

3 The author of the novels that the show is based upon produces the television series.

You decide "whether the show is 'completely wrong'."

  • You quite correctly point out some problems with the TV show. However, that doesn't answer my question. Just because something is wrong with the show, doesn't mean that everything is wrong with it. In short, I don't see how Dr. Brennan's inability to empathize helps me understand if the show correctly illustrates the use of titles. – oz1cz Dec 17 '17 at 11:17
  • I didn't say anything is wrong with the show. I was implying that you shouldn't compare the average American workplace with that of the show and to a native English speaker it seems weird that you would. – AmE speaker Dec 17 '17 at 19:09
  • I agree with Clare. In any number of British hospital/cop/army shows, characters in front of the public always use job descriptions - please notice, you're talking not about titles, but about job descriptions. Generally, the same characters use first names behind the scenes. Far more in cop/military than hospital stories, it's usual for people of broadly the same - ie, perhaps one different - rank to use real names in private and in less formal groups; not formally. The most obvious difference is that in the military, seniors might have to order their juniors to die. Could that matter? – Robbie Goodwin Dec 18 '17 at 22:13
  • Regarding #2, it's not just Bones who does this, so does Camille, although the rest of the characters are less formal. Maybe Camille feels the need to be more formal because she's the Director of the group. – Barmar Dec 21 '17 at 2:09
  • Note also that "Bones" is just one example, it's hardly unique. – Barmar Dec 21 '17 at 2:10
0

Promoting John Lawler's comment to an answer:

...over 50 years of working in American academic settings (university, college, professors, students, administrators, techs, etc.), everybody possible is on a first name basis as soon as possible after being introduced. People you see every day are first-named unless there is a clear power/status thing going on; in academic life there's plenty of that, too, but it doesn't manifest itself in titles, except at the very low end of the scale. At a major research university Dr. is assumed and never mentioned, and Prof is polite when introduced, but it doesn't last.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.