H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
usage is presented by the Honorable. In the United States the title is applied loosely to all public officials of apparent respectability, from senators and ambassadors to the mayors of fifth-rate cities and the members of state legislatures, and with some show of official sanction to many of them, especially congressmen. But it is questionable whether this application has any actual legal standing, save perhaps in the case of certain judges, who are referred to as the Hon. in their own court records. Even the President of the United States, by law, is not the Honorable, but simply the President. In the First Congress the matter of his title was exhaustively debated; some members wanted to call him the Honorable and others proposed His Excellency and even His Highness. But the two Houses finally decided that it was not proper to annex any style or title other than that expressed by the Constitution. Congressmen themselves are not Honorables. True enough, the Congressional Record, in printing a set speech, calls it Speech of Hon. John Jones (without the the before the Hon.a characteristic Americanism), but in reporting the ordinary remarks of a member it always calls him plain Mr. Nevertheless, a country congressman would be offended if his partisans, in announcing his appearance on the stump, did not prefix Hon. to his name. So would a state senator. So would a mayor or governor. I have seen the sergeant-at-arms of the United States Senate referred to as Hon. in the records of that body. More, it has been applied in the same place to Sam Gompers, the labor agitator. Yet more, the prefix is actually usurped by the Superintendent of State Prisons of New York.33
In England the thing is more carefully ordered, and bogus Hons. are unknown. The prefix is applied to both sexes and belongs by law, inter alia, to all present or past maids of honor, to all justices of the High Court during their term of office, to the Scotch Lords of Session, to the sons and daughters of viscounts and barons, to the younger sons and all daughters of earls, and to the members of the legislative and executive councils of the colonies. But not to
Note 33. See, for the sergeant-at-arms, the Congressional Record, May 16, 1918, p. 7147. For Gompers, the Congressional Record, July 19, 1919, p. 3017. For the superintendent of prisons his annual reports, printed at Sing Sing Prison. This perhaps is not the worst. I sometimes receive letters from a United States Senator. Almost invariably his secretary makes me Hon. on the envelope. [back]