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.