Complicated categories

From a letter by Caroline Williamson of Brunswick, Australia, in the London Review of Books:

Ange Mlinko repeats the rumour that Barbara Guest married an English lord (LRB, 3 December 2009). She married Stephen Haden-Guest in 1948; he was the son of the Labour MP Leslie Haden-Guest, who was made a political peer in 1950. Stephen Haden-Guest inherited the title in 1960, six years after the couple divorced.

As an American, I’m eternally amused by this sort of thing. I just love it that people out there cares whether someone is a lord, or a knight, or whatever. It reminds me of the rule that the wife of a king is a queen, but the husband of a queen is not necessarily a king.

P.S. Yes, I know that Americans are silly in other ways. I grew up 2 blocks away from a McDonald’s! I’m not saying that we’re better than people from other countries, just that this particular thing amuses me.

4 thoughts on “Complicated categories

  1. If I may, it bothers me that so much ceremony now attends the President. He's always referred to as Mr. President and his wife is now always The First Lady. That is relatively new. FDR was Mr. Roosevelt and his wife was Mrs. Roosevelt. This degree of formality is not American in origin.

    On another level, I can understand modern security concerns – and I've witnessed them at first hand accompanying a former President – but the person is a citizen and not a king. During wartime, Abraham Lincoln rode his horse to work from his summer house north of the city. There's even a photo of him on the street on his horse with only a few officers with him. Truman lived in Blair House and would go for walks with his dog. Monroe, like many of the early Presidents used to swim in the Potomac, and he famously lost his clothes one day and had to ask someone to go back upstream to gather them for him.

  2. Interesting that you put this next to the post on homogeneous groups cooperating more than heterogeneous groups.

    This is a good example of the type of links you see in homogeneous groups — everybody knows how they fit (and how their parents fit, and how their parents fit).

  3. This is so embarassing! I live in Brunswick too. Most Australians in my generation would see this kind of thing as archaic. If it was ever relevant, it certainly isn't today.

  4. It's easy to find Americans who are concerned about whether Allen Stanford's Antiguan title entitles him to be called "Sir". Since
    he is in the process of being stripped of his knghthood anyway, this is a transient concern. I think the concern arises because Stanford is an
    obvious non-paragon. The British have always been cool with the idea
    that people with titles can be entertainingly crooked. Lord Archer (the successful author, long-time politician and convicted perjurer) is a great example.

    Lots of Americans (Wesley Clark, Norman Schwarzkopf, Alan Greenspan) have been granted honorary knighthoods by the UK, and there is an act of congress specifically allowing such honors. Greenspan had an exchange with Howard Phillips of the Conservative Caucus, who had pointed at the emoluments clause of the constitution. Greenspan's counsel pointed at the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act. Greenspan isn't Sir Alan, because the UK only grants the title itself to Commonwealth citizens. The whole thing is silly: I rather welcome Allen Stanford's efforts, since they make the absurdity so obvious.

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