One possible solution to the growing acidity in communications, including political columns and increasingly rude bloggers, is to bring back honorifics: Mr. for men; Miss or Mrs. for women; and Ms. on those doubtful occasions when good manners is likely to get you castrated by a radical feminist in full fury.
Public discourse without honorifics sounds too much like a bar brawl. As anyone who has ever been involved in a bar brawl will know, there is a world of difference between saying 1) “Smith is an ass,” and 2) “Mr. Smith is an ass,” even when sorrowful bad news is brought to Mr. Smith in a bar. (As an aside, it should be noted that the absence of honorifics in bars has become especially troublesome since smoking, a much frowned upon habit that seemed to have had a calming effect on inebriated patrons, has been criminalized.)
The only thing that might upset bar patrons more than the prohibition of smoking would be the criminalization of hard liquor – not an impossibility when one considers the undiluted asininity of the new puritans -- or the drinking of beer in baseball stadiums. But the secular temperance folk who promulgated the law forbidding smoking in bars, thank Bacchus, have not got there yet.
Consider a mal de fleur plucked at random from a communiqué issued by al-Qaida’s man in Iraq, Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who may or may not by the time this column sees print be associating in heaven with seven nubile virgins.
Some background is necessary. Two of Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s ardent admirers, an Iraqi married couple, strapped themselves with explosive material, crashed a marriage ceremony in Jordan, the native land of Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and pushed the “blow me up” button. The husband went off properly, but the wife failed to explode and later modeled her wired cummerbund during her interrogation by an unusually patient police chief. The people of Jordan were mighty sore at their native son, especially since there are religious prohibitions in the holy book of Islam forbidding the murder of innocent practitioners of that noble faith. The married couple whose ceremony was disturbed by rude Iraqi gate crashers was, by all accounts, innocent and Islamic. Realizing that Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had violated two religious prohibitions, Jordanians took to the streets and proclaimed Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a “coward”. Later his own family denounced him. "A Jordanian doesn't stab himself with his own spear," said a statement issued by 57 members of the al-Khalayleh family, including al-Zarqawi's brother and cousin. "We sever links with him until doomsday."
Around this time Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was struck, as if by a thunderbolt, by a bright idea. Something had to be done to restore his good name; so Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi issued yet another communiqué assuring the home folk, some of whom he had arranged to blow up, “We love you more than ourselves.” His target was not Jordanians about to be wed but Jews and other sons of Satan like Bush, most often referred to in terrorist literature, sadly, without honorifics.
A few honorifics sprinkled through Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s correspondence might make him appear more soft and cuddly.
Or consider a case closer to home. Miss Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the venerable New York Times, has lately come under fire for having written a book provocatively entitled "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide.” It is not machete wielding men who are after Miss Dowd, but ladies of the feminist persuasion who, post publication, have begun referring to her ominously as “Dowd.” One feminist has already asked, “Is Dowd necessary?”
About her new book, Miss Dowd said recently in an interview with Mr. Howard Kurtz: “I thought that men would be bristly about it. But as it turns out, men seem to be dying to discuss the topic of men and women and where they stand today. And I didn't realize women would be so bristly about some points in it, because I thought they already knew that. I think I single-handedly revived feminism. They've been revivified to vivisection me.”
An incurable romantic, Miss Dowd is about to be rasped by old guard feminists, who ought to be mindful of the advice their mothers may have given them: A little manners -- and the strategic placement of an honorific -- goes a long way. As for Mr. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his mother ought to have told him when he was knee high to a toadstool that the trouble with bad manners is they sometimes lead to murder.