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He's not my governor

F
rom the New York Times, Nov. 2, 2000:

Gov. George W. Bush sharply attacked Vice President Al Gore today as a Democratic throwback to an old era who would bring the nation "spending without discipline, spending without priorities and spending without an end."

Bush is the governor? No, he isn't. This style of reference would make sense only in a Texas newspaper, or if Bush were the governor of the United States or of New York. (Sorry to single out the Times; other papers do this, too, but this was the first example I could find on my kitchen table.)

I'm in a rare terminology-coining mood, so please indulge me as I point out that what's needed here is explicit context. Bush is not the governor, period; he's the governor of Texas, so he's Texas Gov. George W. Bush. (Even the popular Gov. George W. Bush of Texas fails the explicit-context test; he's the governor of Texas, not an unspecified governor who simply happens to reside in Texas. This obliqueness is forgivable in a convenient parallelism such as Govs. George W. Bush of Texas and Jeb Bush of Florida, but there's no reason for it in a singular reference.)

Implied context is what makes Gov. George W. Bush just fine in a Texas publication -- and Vice President Al Gore just fine in any U.S. publication. The relevant jurisdiction is assumed unless a story specifies otherwise.

You could argue that Gov. is simply an honorific. You'd have a point if you were defending a second reference to Gov. Bush, but first-reference honorifics are assumed to have a defining quality anywhere outside a formally addressed envelope or letter. The Mr. in Mr. Bill Walsh is meaningless except as a designator of sex, and mass-market publications skip such antiquated niceties. The honorifics that do show up in media first references are honorifics that mean something: Sgt., Dr., Pope. The honorific Gov. is meaningless without context.

Still not convinced? Try this: The unadorned Gov. George W. Bush is wrong for the same reason President Steve Ballmer is wrong. Ballmer is the president of Microsoft; he's not the president.


Now what?

Move on to EVERYTHING'S GENERIC

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