The Small Dictator

Hollands Nationalsozialistenführer Nussert 309-36It had to happen sometime, and it’s happened now: a journalist has told the world they don’t like Lingo all that much. Ever since the publication of the book, just over a year ago, I’ve been spoiled with good reviews, in Britain, the US and elsewhere. Some have been generously appreciative, others nothing short of jubilant. I felt almost embarrassed at times: surely the book wasn’t as good as all that? But I was greatly pleased too, if only because good reviews help me survive on Lingo while I’m working at my new book. And that’s without mentioning the psychological gratification of strangers saying friendly things about the fruit of my linguistic obsession.

But now, one review is different. Though far from scathing, it will send no-one hustling to a bookshop. Also, while it’s not exactly the first review that contains inaccuracies – it’s incredible how frequently that occurs – it is the first one to make a false accusation. It claims that I use grammatical jargon such as ‘augmentative’ and ‘ergative’ without explaining it. Simply not true.

Hard on the heels of this review, there was another one that had a slightly more critical tone than I’ve grown accustomed to. But this one had a peculiarity that much amused me: it consistently referred to my person as ‘Mr Dorren’. This habit, undoubtedly dictated by house style, strongly reminded me of press reports about not only ‘Mr Clinton’, ‘Ms Houston’ and ‘Mr Cosby’, but also ‘Mr Hussein’, ‘Mr Milosevic’ and, in old radio recordings, ‘Mr Hitler’. Once a mass medium has decided to refer to people as Mr or one of its female equivalents, it will extend this politeness even to those clearly undeserving of it, including cruel dictators. There’s just no way of drawing a line.

As a result, this use of ‘Mr’ to my ears sounds hypocritical, even sinister, rather than respectful. And as this review contained a lot of words like ‘French’, ‘Russian’ and ‘English’, this ‘Mr Dorren’ might well be one of those unsavoury characters attempting to redraw the map regardless of human suffering. He couldn’t be one of the great dictators, of course, or his name would be more familiar. Surely some local upstart, this Mr Dorren. A small dictator.


Fortunately, I’m getting encouraging information from my American publisher. Good reviews far outnumber the more critical ones (here’s one), and sales are exceeding expectations. Hurray, I can go on working at my new book!

1 thought on “The Small Dictator

  1. In 2011, the Huffington Post ran an article about the New York Times’ unwavering habit of using honorifics such as Mr for every hero and villain with a heartbeat. (Thanks, Joost Nagtegaal.)


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