Weird thing I learned today from the Twitter IPO

The Americans use “Esq” as an honorific to identify those qualified to practice law.

We Brits use it to mean someone of distinction which is of course entirely the opposite meaning.

23 comments on “Weird thing I learned today from the Twitter IPO

  1. Isn’t the British meaning a landowner? I know Dad used to sometimes get letters addressed to him as Mr Bowles Esq and it was what he told me when I asked what it meant-he hated it, “The Squire” was the silly old fool who Granddad used to have to pay rent to before his tenants bought him out.

  2. Isn’t the British meaning “anyone with no other letters after their name”? Now used more commonly to lampoon those fond of self-aggrandisement? When I was a knee-high my bank used to address my statements to “Mr ___ ___ Esq”.

  3. @ MatGB
    Anyone who addressed your dad as Mr Bowles Esq was pig ignorant. He can be Mr. He can be esq. He cannot be both. It’s a courtesy title,as is Mr (MagisteR) & too much courtesy’s crawling.
    And a courtesy only extendible to Brits. Wogs, Yanks, & other riff-raff only get a Mr.

  4. I used to get birthday cards addressed me that way when I was a boy, presumably as I was too young for Mr.

    I think there’s a bit of mock snootiness about it now, when used to address adults.

  5. Re your posted contention concerning “distinction”… I’m English and qualified to practise law, but don’t. Does that make me extra distinguished?

    Rather like (I think) P G Wodehouse’s definition of “a Gentleman” as “someone who can play the banjo, but doesn’t”.

  6. @ James P
    The correct honorific for a boy would be “Master” as a prefix.

    Has all of this now slipped?

    Like the sincerely/faithfully thing seems to have.

  7. And getting letters addressed to one, by one’s forename, by people one’s never heard of.
    Especially in a country & language where everyone has at least two forenames & two surnames & which pair get used seems to be a matter of choice.
    Grrrr….

  8. The German closing formulations in letters are still used correctly, but there’s a secret code involved, so getting it right is extremely important. “Friendly greetings” is the default, “With high regard” (Hochachtungsvoll) is used to signal that you are seriously pissed off with the recipient, i.e. the complete opposite of the surface meaning.

  9. @JamesV
    Yes, and verbally the Japanese probably win this – ‘So desu’ or ‘so desu ka’ can be the stilettos of polite contempt or rollicking laughter depending on tone and phrasing.

    Experienced a crook of an estate agent treat me with such uber-polite withering scorn through these that I could only applaud.

  10. MatGB, your father should have restrained his hatred; Esquire does not mean a Squire in the ‘Lord of the Manor’ sense.

    A squire was originally the assistant to a knight. Yes largely of the aristocratic / squirearchy class, but sons rather than the lord of the manor himself.

    Later, as knights stopped appointing squires, ‘esquire’ began to be used as an honorific for anyone from the class who would have been a squire. At one point there was a formal definition, basically male-line descent from someone armigerous but without being armigerous yourself (which would have put you higher than a squire).

    That generally wouldn’t have included the Lord of the Manor because as the head of the family he would normally be armigerous himself

    However ‘esquire’ was then widened to include holders of certain offices, including Justices of the Peace – which I suspect is where the Lord of the Manor as ‘Squire’ came from, they normally being JPs. But that’s only one category of esquire, not its only or even main meaning.

    Eventually that was widened to include all barristers, which is where the US lawyer thing comes from (although as usual the Yanks get it wrong; it is actually used to distinguish between barristers, who are Esquire, and solicitors who are not). Also included middle-ranking army officers.

    In the 20th century it became so widely used as a polite fiction (to imply that you are no doubt of “gentle birth”) that it became meaningless.

  11. Piss off, Tim :-)

    Yours faithfully

    B K Commins Esq BA LLB (Attorney of the High Court of South Africa)

  12. It’s strange to British eyes to see Esq. suffixed to female names, but it makes sense in the USA. Actually I reckon most Brits stopped addressing each other as Esq. in about the 1980s.

  13. It’s many a day since I’ve seen “Esq”. I am old enough to have received letters that began with surname alone, as in Dear Worstall, ….

  14. Actually the use of ‘Esq.’ by U.S. attorneys can be of immense help in identifying those attorneys who are even bigger assholes than your normal, garden variety U. S. attorney. I often suggest use of the title to attorneys I meet while on life’s journey.

  15. @ JamesV
    No, it’s for males who deserve respect (or whom you wish to flatter by pretending that they do) but who are not peers or knights or doctors or clerks in Holy Orders or… What you should have said was “anyone with no title *before* their name.” It works fine for those who have more letters after their name than in it (except for the ladies, such as the organist in my previous parish).

  16. Would you really bother to be a B.Sc. Esq.? What about surgeons, who usually have a considerable collection of letters, often an M.D. and always an undergraduate medical “doctorate” but are traditionally entitled “Mr.”?

    I confess I’ve only ever come across ironic usage recently, but I have, praise the Lord, nothing to do with American legal professionals. Who I understand are also mostly JDs and thus in no need of a lesser honorific.

  17. In the ancien régime the king’s younger brother was Monsieur and his younger sister Mademoiselle. Despite these common epithets everyone knew who was meant.

    Just booked a flight for the wife under Mr Blokeinfrance and she wanted me to change it so she was Mrs. I can’t understand why airlines should care. Did Glenn Greenwald book his squeeze in as Mrs Greenwald or did the boyfriend use his (ahem) maiden name?

  18. @ JamesV
    Well, it depends: before Oxford redefined his B.Sc.as an M.Sc. my father got letters as XYZ Esq. B.Sc.
    No, he didn’t bother – why should he?

  19. Just got my statement from Berry Bros. & Rudd. Thought they might use Esq., but no.

    Mind you, they might have withdrawn the honorific because my account is overdue.

  20. JamesV: surgeons traditionally are not gentlemen as they are allied with the barber’s trade. Physicians were/are presumed to be of a more elevated social background, so beome Mr.

  21. “surgeons, who usually have a considerable collection of letters, often an M.D.” Are you sure? It’s not often I’ve seen that in Britain.

  22. My Cambridge college used to address letters to me to “M. J. Jennings, Esq.”, if I recall correctly. When I started reading this post, the thought that they hadn’t done this recently also crossed my mind. Then I realised that they stopped doing it when they awarded me a Ph.D. after which they started addressing letters to “Dr M. J. Jennings”. I suppose that’s the whole point, but it hadn’t occurred to me until now.

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