More Misterology

Several readers have pointed out that in complaining about news organizations and government officials who tend to call the Yugoslav leader Mister Milosevic, Chatterbox failed to provide a ratio comparing recent Nexis citations that attach an honorific to Milosevic’s name to recent Nexis citations that do not. (See “Hitler, Meet Mister Milosevic.”) Chatterbox had roughed out similar ratios for a number of other bloody-minded leaders of the 20th century: “Mr. Hitler” vs. “Hitler” (12 versus more than 1,000); “Mr. Stalin” vs. “Stalin” (six versus more than 1,000); “Mr. Mao” vs. “Mao” (zero versus more than 1,000); “Mr. Pot” vs. “Pol Pot” (zero versus 752); “Mr. Amin” vs. “Idi Amin” (two versus 350); and “Mr. Hussein” vs. “Saddam” (74 versus more than 1,000).

Calculating as conservatively as possible, the highest ratio of honorific-to-no-honorific in this batch was 74:1001 for “Mr. Hussein” vs. “Saddam.” (It’s probable, or course, that the actual “Saddam” denominator is higher–perhaps much higher–than 1001.) How does 74:1001 stack up to the honorific-to-no-honorific ratio for Milosevic? To calculate this, Chatterbox couldn’t use the same period of the previous 90 days that he used to make the other calculations; Milosevic is in the news so much that Nexis references to both “Mr. Milosevic” and “Milosevic” exceed 1,000, and whenever that happens Nexis craps out. To keep the numbers manageable, Chatterbox limited his search to news accounts for today, May 13: As of 2:45 p.m., Nexis counted 33 hits for “Mr. Milosevic” versus 335 for “Milosevic.”

Some naysayers will claim that this new figure undermines Chatterbox’s complaint that too many people give Milosevic an honorific. It’s true that usually, they don’t. But the point is that people call Milosevic Mister more frequently than they mister anyone else in Chatterbox’s bad-guy hall of fame. A ratio of 33:335 is higher than the 74:1001 for Saddam. Moreover, if you really want to know how many times Milosevic got denied a Mister today, you have to subtract 33 from the 335 “Milosevic” hits, since the phrase “Mr. Milosevic” incorporates the word “Milosevic.” (This isn’t necessary for the other bad guys cited here, either because the amounts subtracted from the denominator would be negligible, or because there’s no overlap between the honorific and non-honorific phrases–e.g., “Saddam Hussein” is not a subset of “Mr. Hussein.”)

So really, the true “Mr. Milosevic” vs. “Milosevic” ratio is 33:302. That means Milosevic only got denied a Mister 302 times today. Which isn’t nearly enough.