What do you prop­erly call a Hil­lary?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

We might be run­ning out of things to be of­fended by. Fem­i­nists, gays and blacks have got so much of what they want that fool­ish peo­ple thought they might pipe down any day now, to let the rest of us rest while they reload.

But some of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s friends — so far not Her Grub­bi­ness her­self — are of­fended be­cause the news­pa­pers and ev­ery­one else call her Hil­lary. (Some over-caf­feinated peo­ple even call her Hil­lary!) They ar­gue that such fa­mil­iar­ity “di­min­ishes her per­son­hood,” and the in­evitable pro­fes­sors are called in to say why the cul­ture de­mands that Hil­lary must ab­sorb such slings and lin­guis­tic ar­rows.

No mat­ter why peo­ple use first names, says Deb­o­rah Tan­nen, a lin­guis­tics pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity, even if they’re just be­ing friendly, the in­evitable re­sult is that the per­son ad­dressed by her first name, like Rod­ney Danger­field, “don’t get no re­spect.”

Hil­lary, who knows that a dis­tinc­tive first name like hers is snappy, eas­ily re­mem­bered, and worth mil­lions for mar­ket­ing a can­di­date, has not ob­jected. What’s to ob­ject to? Be­sides, it’s al­ready posted on the bumpers of the cars of her friends, pro­claim­ing they’re ready for her.

How­ever, Hil­lary has suf­fered from nomen­cla­ture dis­ease in the past. When she ar­rived in Arkansas as Bubba’s bride, a Yan­kee fresh from Yale Law School and ea­ger to get the hicks straight­ened out, she in­sisted that she was not con­tent to be Hil­lary Clin­ton, hav­ing taken her hus­band’s name like ev­ery other wife in the hills, hol­lows and bot­tom­land farms, but Hil­lary Rod­ham. Even when she got to Wash­ing­ton, determined not to be a dreaded “wife of,” she was still a Rod­ham, not a Clin­ton. No bak­ing cook­ies or stand­ing by a man for her.

She’s smarter now and maybe wiser, prob­a­bly un­der­stand­ing that since “Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton” won’t fit eas­ily in a head­line, she might as well ex­ploit good for­tune. Politi­cians, movie stars and soap sales­men some­times pay a lot of money for a name like Hil­lary. A study by re­searchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Utah, with noth­ing bet­ter to do than watch tele­vi­sion, dis­cov­ered that in their race in 2008 re­porters and tele­vi­sion news read­ers were four times more likely to call Hil­lary by her first name than to call Barack Obama by his. Hil­lary, with its three mu­si­cal syl­la­bles, rolls off the tongue. “Barack” falls off the tongue, as if into a cough.

Men get the first-name treat­ment, too, and none ob­ject. Rand Paul in­vites one and all to “Stand With Rand” (who would want to “Fall With Paul”?). In years past we’ve had “Si­lent Cal” (Coolidge) and “Teddy” (Roo­sevelt), which he hated but it got a toy bear named for him. Only short, three or four or five-let­ter names make it in a head­line. News­pa­per copy desks couldn’t eas­ily fit “Eisen­hower” into a one-col­umn head­line, so re­luc­tant ed­i­tors agreed to “Ike,” and it be­came the most popular but­ton (“I like Ike”) of the 1952 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. “Madly for Ad­lai” (Stevenson) never caught on. It was a let­ter too long.

Copy ed­i­tors, who write news­pa­per head­lines, are gen­er­ally non­par­ti­san, and re­serve their po­lit­i­cal pas­sion for can­di­dates with short names like Haig, Taft, Bush and Gore. The copy desk hit the jack­pot in 1996 with Dole-Kemp. Mitt and Jeb! (bet­ter with­out the ex­cla­ma­tion point) were win­ners, too. Perot was not bad, but the bul­bous cap­i­tal “P” and the “o” soaked up room on the line.

Stay­ing po­lit­i­cally cor­rect about lan­guage is not easy be­cause the shrill com­plaints are usu­ally lodged by those who don’t know much about words, their mean­ings and their nu­ances (a fa­vorite word of the ter­mi­nally pre­cious). Amy Chozick of The New York Times, who you might think would be safe from ac­cu­sa­tions of com­mit­ting calumny since she’s safely fe­male and a re­porter for the news­pa­per for the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, was Twit­ter-bombed by a Hil­lary su­per PAC for de­scrib­ing Mrs. Clin­ton with words such as “po­lar­iz­ing,” “am­bi­tious” and “se­cre­tive,” all words that hardly de­scribe crimes and are deadly ac­cu­rate as de­scrip­tions of the prospec­tive can­di­date. Nev­er­the­less, the PAC told Miss Chozick that “you are on no­tice that we will be watch­ing, read­ing, lis­ten­ing and protest­ing coded sex­ism.”

Laura Ed­wards, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at Duke Uni­ver­sity who stud­ies “gen­der,” by which she means “sex,” ar­gues that call­ing a woman by her first name is a “prob­lem” of how to ac­knowl­edge women. Be­cause women use their fa­thers’ or hus­bands’ names, they have no public iden­tity.

There’s a sim­ple good rea­son why Hil­lary is called Hil­lary, and you might think fem­i­nists would ap­plaud. Bubba still has his “public iden­tity,” too, and two Clin­tons in a head­line is con­fus­ing. Scary, even. Wes­ley Pruden is edi­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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