U.S. Builds Barriers To Stop 'Title' Wave
"All kings is mostly rapscallions," Mark Twain wrote in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Twain's royal flush succinctly captures the anti-imperial feelings of most Americans. As enthralled as we Yanks might be by the Meghan-Harry-Pippa crowd, we've just never had much respect for their royal titles.
When Queen Elizabeth II visited New York City during the 1960s, for instance, a mob of news photographers shouted to get her attention. While most of the photogs politely (and unsuccessfully) called out "Your Majesty!" or "Your Highness!" one paparazzo yelled in classic Brooklynese, "Hey, Queenie! Ovaah heeaah!" Her Majesty turned his way, and he got his shot.
Likewise, when the plain-spoken U.S. athlete Jim Thorpe received a gold medal from the king of Sweden in the 1912 Olympics, he turned to the monarch and said simply, "Thanks, King."
Our nation's Constitution, riding a democratic tidal wave, also waived titles. It specifically prohibited our government from granting "titles of nobility," though a later amendment exempted Elvis.
True, our nation's founders did consider calling the U.S. chief executive by names as lofty as "His Mightiness," "His Supremacy" and "His Highness the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." But they finally settled for the down-to-earth "that jerk in the White House" or Marilyn Monroe's more affectionate appellation "Misttuh Pwezident."
Four decades later, when the veto-happy Andrew Jackson expanded his presidential powers, his exasperated opponents hurled at him the most damning epithet they could: "King Andrew." They really knew how to hurt a guy.
Given our disdain for monarchs, it's no surprise that we Americans get butterflies in our stomachs when we hear the royal "we" that preening practice kings and queens have of referring to themselves in the first person plural.
Put simply, we are not amused. When we Americans hear a royal say, "We will dine now," we're tempted to ask, "Do you suffer from intestinal worms?"
Perhaps that's why our Constitution was so careful to follow its first word, "we," with the clarifying phrase "the people." No mistaking our democratic "we" for that imperious royal one!
The poet Wallace Stevens perhaps summarized our anti-royalist sentiments best when he wrote, "The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream." (Well, OK, and once in a while, a Burger King.)
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to WordGuy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.