Columns » Words

Words, Jan. 15

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Maggie Smith writes:

“Max made a blog entry this morning and concluded it with ‘General McDaniel, your thoughts are welcome.' It's always been my understanding that the word ‘general' in the title of attorney general was an adjective indicating that the officer was generally the attorney for all state legal affairs. If this is correct, would the honorific ‘General' be appropriate here? It seems unlikely. I've always used ‘The Honorable' on letters, but that sounds cumbersome when spoken in anything other than a formal introduction. What would be appropriate for the attorney general?”

I've heard that the downtown ladies call him Treetop Lover and the men just call him Sir. Or maybe that was someone else.

Attorneys general are indeed often addressed as “general,” and Gabe Holmstrom, a spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, says they do it themselves. At meetings of the National Association of Attorneys General, Holmstrom says, “You hear ‘general' back and forth all day.”

But the very name of the organization suggests Ms. Smith is correct that general is an adjective and attorney is the noun. Look at which one gets pluralized. I think the general here refers more to “having extended command or superior rank” than to “usual, for the most part” but in either case it's an adjective, and we seldom use those as forms of address. We don't call an M.D.  “Medical Jones.”

According to the World Almanac, if you were sending a letter to the U.S. attorney general, you would address it to “The Hon. Firstname Surname, Attorney General, Department of Justice, Constitution Ave. and 10th St.,” etc. The salutation would be “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Mr. or Ms. Attorney General.” You wouldn't separate the attorney from the general, in other words. The same rule would apply to the states. Technically, this “Max” Ms. Smith cites should have written “Attorney General McDaniel.”      

 

Maybe a charter school:

A photograph from failblog.org shows a car with an Arkansas license plate and a message written on the rear window: “Free O.J. He ain't do it.”

John Hall asks, “A product of our public schools?”

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