What’s in a Name? A Jail Sentence, in Germany
Filed under: Editor at Large,Politics,U.S. vs. U.K. — Casey

Via Language Log:

American Ian Thomas Baldwin, PhD., is a researcher at one of the German Max Planck Institutes, a prestigious network of institutions which carry out cutting-edge research for the public good. Baldwin has been using his “Dr.” title with pride for two decades.

Now he’s facing criminal charges. The Washington Post explains:

Under a little-known Nazi-era law, only people who earn PhDs or medical degrees in Germany are allowed to use “Dr.” as a courtesy title.

The law was modified in 2001 to extend the privilege to degree-holders from any country in the European Union. But docs from the United States and anywhere else outside Europe are still forbidden to use the honorific. Violators can face a year behind bars.

The Post reports that at least seven U.S. citizens, some of whom, like Baldwin, had been using their hard-earned titles for decades, were outed to the German authorities by an anonymous informant.

Germany is title-crazy; anyone who lives and works here can see that soon enough. I recall writing letters to Frau Prof. Dr. So-and-so or Herr Dr. Dr. Something-or-other.

But there is a method behind the madness: only in Germany, for example, does one write a separate dissertation, after the PhD., to qualify for a professorship. And even then, there is debate over whether one can still claim to be a Professor after retirement.

Germany has more restrictive speech laws generally than the United States; the criminalization of Holocaust denial is probably the most well known, but there are stipulations for Internet content as well that apply to this very blog.

2 Comments »

  • Beverly said:  
    (On 20 March 2008 at 3:46 PM)

    Despite being mostly German, I may never understand Germany….

    So I suppose this means if I take my J.D. to Germany I should keep it under wraps…

  • Casey said:  
    (On 20 March 2008 at 4:40 PM)

    Well, to Germany’s credit they’re trying to fix the situation. But it’s my understanding that even the remedies will apply only to PhDs from the U.S., which still leaves Canadians, Japanese, and even Croatians out in the cold. If you check the Language Log link at the top there’s an update to the original post there about this issue.

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