Mr. Crankypants has been reading Unitarian Universalist blogs, and has been noticing how many bloggers misuse the honorific “reverend.”
The most common honorifics are used separately from each other. Thus we speak of “Dr. Smith,” or “Mr. Smith,” but after Mr. Smith becomes a doctor we do not speak of “Dr. Mr. Smith.” The honorific “Reverend,” however, like “Honorable,” belongs to a group of honorifics that most properly appear with other honorifics. Thus when Dr. Wang is ordained she becomes Rev. Dr. Lily Wang; when Mr. Jones is ordained he becomes Rev. Mr. Jenkin Lloyd Jones. We commonly understand that “Rev.”, like “Mr.”, is an abbreviation; completely spelled out, “Rev. Ms. Cuervo” abbreviates “the Reverend Ms Cuervo,” just as “Hon.” abbreviates “the Honorable.”
Note that the honorific “Reverend” is used only the first time a person is mentioned; thereafter that person is referred to as Mr., Ms., or Dr. Soandso. For clarity, it is best when the first mention of the clergyperson uses both “Rev.”, followed by Mr., Ms., Dr., etc., followed by the person’s first name and last name, i.e., “Rev. Mr. Supply Belcher”.1
Mr. Crankypants has observed many improper uses of the honorific “Reverend” in the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere (and in the wider blogosphere, for that matter, an interesting case where Unitarian Universalist bloggers are no worse than other religious bloggers). Below are three hypothetical examples of ways the honorific “Reverend” is misused, along with Mr. Crankypants’s comments and corrections.
(1) Then the reverend married us.
A common error. “Reverend” is not a noun, it is an honorific that must modify a proper noun. This confusion probably arises from the honorific “Doctor” which sounds exactly like the noun “doctor.” The person who is addressed with the honorific “Reverend” may be a minister, pastor, rector, elder, etc.; but there is no such thing as a “reverend.” Similarly, the person who is addressed with the honorific “Honorable” may be a mayor or other political leader; but the holder of the executive office in a city is not an “honorable.” One also wonders why the clergyperson in the example would want to get involved in a polyamorous relationship with someone who uses such bad English style, but let it pass. The corrected sentence should read: “Then the minister officiated at our wedding ceremony.”
(2) Our minister is Rev. Darth Vader. Tomorrow, Rev. Vader will preach on the errors of Jediism.
An error so common it is often not perceived as an error. But think of the case where the proper honorific for the clergyperson is “Very Rev.”; it would sound awkward if subsequent mentions of the clergyperson included the complete honorific, and awkward if they did not. Because there are no “Very Rev.” Unitarian Universalist clergypeople, Unitarian Universalists can get away with making this error, assuming they can tolerate looking idiotic to people like Mr. Crankypants, but it would be better to rewrite these two sentences as follows: “Our minister is the Rev. Dr. Darth Vader. Tomorrow, Dr. Vader will preach on the errors of Jediism.”
(3) And now, Rev. Johnnie will tell the children a story.
A common and unforgiveable error. Even if the clergyperson’s last name is “Johnnie,” the sentence should read “Rev. Mr. Johnnie will tell…” and even then it would be better if Mr. Johnnie’s first name were included. The honorific “Reverend” is a formal term, and no amount of having the kiddies call their minister “Rev. Johnnie” will make it any less formal as an honorific. Instead it sounds like those horrible television shows for children where the host is named “Mister Bobbie,” and the man playing “Mister Bobbie” is either a simpleton or a probable child molester. It’s only a short step from the example given above, to saying something like this: “And now, Reverend Johnnie will tell the pwecious little kiddies a vewy important story!” — a sentence which cries out to be completed with a self-satisfied, self-conscious, half-demented giggle. Assuming the minister had already been introduced, the corrected sentence could read, “Mr. Amirthanagayam will now tell the story” (and yes, even if Johnnie’s last name is that long one should say the whole name); or, if one wished to be informal, the sentence could read: “Johnnie will now tell the story.”
So Mr. Crankypants has decreed. So may it be, whether you like it or not.
1Yes, Jim, this is a real name: Supply Belcher was a late 18th C. American composer of hymn tunes.