US Titles and Etiquette

Ancientgeezer

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
8,899
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
Any knowledgeable American out there?
Now the US election is over I can ask a question that has been bugging me.
Throughout the US Presidential campaign, Hilary Clinton was always referred to by her supporters and henchmen (and henchwomen)) as "Secretary" Clinton.
Now I have never heard of American officials being provided with an honorific after they have finished their term or office, with the exception of Presidents of the United States who, after all, have been Head of State.
However, I looked it up---it seems that NO American official should be formally addressed by a previously held title or rank with the exception that "The Honorable" is used as a prefix with the rider "former", so one can be "the Honorable Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State". The same is true American official protocol for all ranks, Governor, Congressman, Secretary and so on because the theory is taht teh job is only occupied by one person at a time.
The exception is that, following the British tradition, military ranks above the grade of Major may be retained into civilian life, although they are a bit meaningless unless one has lots of medals as well.

What thoughts?
Is the use of titles of old jobs just pretentious?
 
Oct 2014
1,260
California
Those who idolize her (media and liberal elites) add the 'Secretary' title... it seems to have more weight than 'ex-Senator' or the almost insulting (to them) "former first lady"!

To most of us she is just Hillary and to some, "lying Hillary"!
 

constantine

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
8,545
Formally speaking, you're right. In fact, technically a Secretary is a role, not a rank, and it's not even technically proper to call someone Secretary X while they hold the position. With that said, the custom of calling someone by the highest government office they've held is almost universal at this point, so I wouldn't exactly regard it as pretentious.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,741
Dispargum
One should always recognize a person's most recent accomplishment. To call her simply Mrs. Clinton denies her election to the Senate and service in the cabinet. Senator Clinton would be appropriate except that it is not her most recent accomplishment. Secretary Clinton is completely appropriate. "The Honorable" might be technically correct in the most formal circumstances, but is rarely used in public.

There has to be a certain amount of informality in public because most members of the public don't know the strictest rules of etiquette. You looked it up. Most people don't.
 

Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,412
Albuquerque, NM
The language is evolving. To use "Secretary" or "Senator" for those out of Office was, and still is improper. So many "Ex's" are vain enough about their grandest title, that they expect if as the honorific for life. To do otherwise would, quite properly, mark them as "has beens". The most feared public image that motivates the whole range of celebrities is to be seen as yesterday's news. Politicians, perhaps more than most have to be eternally loved by all, and most know in their hearts just how flawed they really are. If you can't be "the thing", at least you can look and sound like it.

Years ago I served as an Election Judge, one of the poll officials responsible for keeping the election run properly and within the law. One of the voters recognized me later on the street. He tipped his non-existent hat and greeted me, "Have a good morning, Judge". A meaningless misunderstanding of my function, but oh it felt so nice to be given that unearned honorific.
 

Lord Fairfax

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,445
Changing trains at Terrapin Station...
Formally speaking, you're right. In fact, technically a Secretary is a role, not a rank, and it's not even technically proper to call someone Secretary X while they hold the position. With that said, the custom of calling someone by the highest government office they've held is almost universal at this point, so I wouldn't exactly regard it as pretentious.
Correct.
Newt Gingrich is usually addressed as Mr. Speaker, even though he no longer is.

One should always recognize a person's most recent accomplishment. To call her simply Mrs. Clinton denies her election to the Senate and service in the cabinet. Senator Clinton would be appropriate except that it is not her most recent accomplishment. Secretary Clinton is completely appropriate. "The Honorable" might be technically correct in the most formal circumstances, but is rarely used in public.

There has to be a certain amount of informality in public because most members of the public don't know the strictest rules of etiquette. You looked it up. Most people don't.
Should be the highest office, not the most recent.
 
Dec 2016
152
Utah
TRUMP-nado!

There is nothing against using the person's former highest title. Last election had Secretaries, Senators, and Governors, all referred to by their respective titles.