The rise of inflated job titles

Surgeons

Surgeons want to protect their job title to prevent foot, cosmetic and, presumably, tree surgeons from using the word. Are people increasingly sensitive about job titles?

It's a familiar film trope in the historical epic - the wounded and screaming soldier held down by an orderly. "The whole leg's going to have to come off," says a man in a once-white shirt that has been long-since soiled by the viscera of war. His sleeves are rolled up and he brandishes a bow-saw. A grimy bottle of Kentucky Salt River Bourbon is handed to the patient. The surgeon begins his work.

With a profession so steeped in blood and saws, one can understand the Royal College of Surgeons' need to protect the word surgeon. There are certain jobs where the title is hard won and deserves to be preserved.

The issue at the moment is whether only people who have a medical degree should be able to call themselves surgeons. It's a question that is threatening to make an incision in the surgeon community. On the one hand, podiatrists - who don't necessarily have a medical qualification - argue they have spent 12 years training in order to bill the foot.

Trust me, I'm a surgeon

Chiropodist
  • Royal College of Surgeons wants government to put legal restrictions on the title
  • At present, anyone can call themselves a surgeon
  • Chiropodists and podiatrists defend their own use of it
  • Department of Health says the situation is "always under review"

Meanwhile, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons aka Baaps (please stop sniggering down the back - seriously, what age are you?) agree with the RCS.

Titles are a sensitive topic for surgeons as it is - back in 2005, Hugh Philips, the then president of the RCS, said it was time that surgeons stopped being Mr/Miss/Mrs and became Dr.

I'm not so sure. If your profession is already specialised and skilled, the mister seems to project an air of understated authority and cool. No-one could argue that Laurence Tireaud - aka Mr T - would have any more authority if he was Dr T. And if anyone does think that, well… I pity the fool.

Job titles are important. For centuries, humans have attached a lot of their identity, self-worth and, some time ago, their surnames to their trade. An obsession with titles could indicate a certain insecurity in some people about what they do - especially when it comes to heads of state, who may not do a whole lot.

Idi Amin famously went by the title His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, CBE, Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.

Idi Amin Idi Amin also styled himself as the Last King of Scotland

But it's worth noting that even he realised there was a limit to the respect one can garner for being Lord of the Fish, and he went and found a local university to make him a doctor (of law of course). It's likely Idi Amin collected these odd titles to reinforce his image as one of a buffoon, thus distracting the world from the killing of his own people.

Tree surgeon Tree surgeons also prefer Mr to Dr

Idi Amin may have been joking but he was eclipsed in all seriousness by the job title of Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany whose full moniker ran to 158 words, in order to make sure it counted all the territories within his power, including Duke of the Wends and the Kashubians - Western Slavic tribes who are two of the most wonderfully titled peoples there have been. The Kashubians will no doubt have their name appropriated for use in an epic novel set in a fantasy world, and the Wends (especially their American descendants, the Texas Wends) are destined to be The-Next-Band-After-Mumford-And-Sons.

For Kaiser Willhelm-esque job-entitling nowadays, you need look no further than the work-orientated social networking website LinkedIn.

The more is less principle seems to apply. If you search for the profile of the head of your company, it may simply say CEO. That is a job title that needs no further elaboration. Move further down into the bowels of a large organisation and you will see titles like knowledge champion, value driver lead and dynamic paradigm orchestrator start to appear.

Previously in the Magazine

Job title inflation is everywhere.

Last week the Plain English Campaign received a local authority job advert from a member of the public for a person-centred transition facilitator.

"We debated for hours what this means. It might be a social worker dealing with disabled children?" says a spokesman.

Other examples from its files include ambient replenishment controller and regional head of services, infrastructure and procurement. Also known as shelf stacker and caretaker.

The first two are real, while the last one is not. It's generated by a simple algorithm on a website that creates imaginary job titles and sometimes, accidentally, these turn out to be real. However, just because a job has a whiff of bovine ordure about it, it doesn't mean it's a meaningless endeavour. A lot of people with impenetrable titles are actually movers (location change management specialists) and shakers (arthymic oscillating technicians).

Occupations seem to evolve now faster than the language, and so many new ones are composed of combinations of vague words rather than the matter of fact you-hit-this-with-this descriptive nouns of old. Millions of positions require no tools other than a brain, some software and kit to run the software on. Since no-one wants to be called a computer tapper or meeting-room-herd, a title needs to be found.

Now I'm thinking that maybe comedian and writer doesn't really do me justice. I see myself more as a humour enablement consultant.

It puts less pressure on me. I don't have to make you laugh, just create the conditions to allow you to achieve your laughing potential.

When compared to surgeon though, it just doesn't cut it.

Cast of Twenty Twelve Twenty Twelve's heads of deliverance, brand, sustainability, infrastructure...

You can hear Colm O'Regan every Saturday on In The Balance, on the BBC World Service, at 11:00 GMT

Here is a selection of readers' inflated job titles.

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