While browsing a few of my more regular news websites, I came across this article on the BBC World News site, about Zimbabwe, Mugabe and Howard, who is being accused by Mugabe of financially supporting ‘terrorism’.

Aside from any political discussions about the issue of terrorism, Zimbabwe and Mugabe (it’s tempting, but I may leave it to a footnote) I was drawn to the caption underneath the image of Howard. It reads:

Mr Howard accused Robert Mugabe of being a “grubby dictator”

What drew my attention was the Mr, which is curious as it isn’t his usual title. It would ordinarily be something like Prime Minister Howard or the completely repugnant The Right-Honorable something-or-other. Now, Mr Howard is the name that Kevin Rudd, leader of the opposition (which I can finally say without using quote marks), has been using of late when referring to him.

To me, the choice of Mr as opposed to some of the more uppity titles available for a Prime Minister of a sovereign nation, is actually a relatively diminutive term, which was, as I understood it, Rudd’s motivation for the choice.

<update>

I went to the extraordinary step of asking the BBC what motivated the choice of title. The response was underwhelming but entirely acceptable:

Our style is to refer to all living men as “Mr” on second reference, unless they are a medical doctor, or have been convicted of a crime.

On re-reading the article, the first reference was to Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Still, I wonder what they use to refer to males who have been convicted of a crime.

</update>

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While I’m talking about titles of parliamentarians, something that never fails to annoy me is the completely ungrammatical (no matter what your opinion of English usage) double determiner-phrase used by the speaker of the house during parliamentary sessions.

The honorable the Leader of the Opposition

Don’t the first two determiners jump out at you as being incompatible? The only way this can be grammatical for me is if the the two constituents beginning with the are conjoined as though they were members of a list, similar to the one, the only… Except this can’t be right, since the honorable and the leader are not the same sort of constituent and so can’t be readily conjoined. It’d be like the brown, the dog over there. Completely awful.

I was going to attempt to segment this NP into its various smaller nodes and discuss it further, but it occurred to me that my knowledge of English syntax, specifically where DPs, NPs and APs fit in with eachother, is pretty rudimentary and I don’t want to make myself look a fool! I’m pretty certain the section The leader of the opposition breaks down like this:

{NP [DP The] Leader (PP Of {NP [DP The] Opposition})}

But when I try to stick honorable in as well, I get too many conflicting ideas about APs inside DPs, NPs inside APs etc. Best to leave it there.

The Guide to the House of Representatives Practice includes a small section on titles, which claims that the correct method for referring to a minister (who warrants the title ‘honorable’) is something like The honorable member for (electorate) which makes perfect sense. Except the current speaker of the house, the honorable David Hawker, always inserts a second the, and I just can’t accept it!

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<footnote>

As implied earlier, I might take a little moment to editorialise about ‘terrorism’ and Zimbabwe.

Now, don’t take this as an advocation of the Zimbabwean government, I think Mugabe’s a raving lunatic and should be overthrown by force, I would even actively support revolutionary sentiment in order to do so. But the issue brings to light an interesting question as to the meaning of ‘terrorism’, which, despite occurring in pieces of legislation around the world, lacks an adequate definition.

I’m sure the various governments that are involved would certainly scoff at being accused of providing material support for terrorism with respect to Mugabe and Zimbabwe, but how can terrorism possibly be defined that would include politically motivated violence in some countries but not in others? Surely it would be morally impermissible to make decisions based on judgments like we don’t like that government, therefore violence against it is not terrorism, but that seems to be the determining factor more often than not.

This is why I often put terrorism in quote marks.

</footnote>

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