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Respect for the cloth

We’re going to go over this once more, just one more time, in the ever-fading expectation that newspapers might get it right.

An obituary in The Sun for the Rev. Harry L. Holfeder, a Presbyterian divine, referred to him throughout as "the Rev. Holfeder." (The Sun, like many papers that have dropped courtesy titles elsewhere, continues to use them in obituaries.)

The word Reverend is an adjective, not a noun like Colonel or Bishop or President, and therefore is not supposed to stand alone with a name. The traditional form, when the title is used with the last name, is "the Rev. Mr. Holfeder." If that seems a bit much, "Mr. Holfeder" suffices. (Since Mr. Holfeder was not Roman Catholic, Anglican or Eastern Orthodox, Father doesn’t enter into the discussion.)

While the point may be a trifle obscure to the larger population, reporters and assigning editors and copy editors, who have access to a stylebook, might be expected to grasp it.

Now, we know perfectly well that many, many people would say or write Rev. Harry L. Holfeder without the definite article and call him Reverend Holfeder without the trace of a blush. It is also manifestly the case that many denominational publications follow the same careless practice. And it should be dawning on you by this point that very few people fixate on this issue the way that cranky old fussbudget your humble blogger does.

But if you insist — God save the mark — on using archaic titles, you ought to be using them correctly.

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:55 AM | | Comments (2)


Sure, it started as a adjective. But it's so archaic it's really turned into a noun, though - "He's a reverend" is something I've heard many, many times in my life.

I quite enjoyed this post. My initial reaction was to wonder how any copy editor could condone such an obvious solecism. But the title of “divine” (caps.?) seemed so grand that one would think it would merit a “the Right Reverend” or a “the Very Reverend” at the least. Curiosity piqued, I turned to the obit first for clarification. Mirabile dictu, the thing pops back and forth between the and non-the indiscriminantly. The good Mr. Holfelder (and he does seem to have been a very good man indeed) turns out to have been Pastor of his church. No mention is made of “divine.”

So, here’s my plan, John: I won’t say “ha!” if you tell me what a divine is. Deal?

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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