Our newspaper reported the other day that former New York Mayor John V. Lindsay had been offered an appointment (which he declined) as Distinguished Professor at Hunter College. Now Mr. Lindsay has charm, wit, and a fine record in Congress, even if he did not turn Fun City into the earthly paradise predicted in his political campaign; but we nevertheless wonder how it would be possible for one who has never before ventured professionally into Academe to become all at once—as if Merlin had simply waved his hand over him—a distinguished professor. In the era of Longfellow, or William Graham Sumner, or the very recent times of our own Allan Nevins, it used to take years.
“Distinguished Professor,” of course, is now a regular rank at Hunter and an increasing number of other colleges and universities, one cut above “Professor,” the old top of the heap, just as “General of the Army” was invented to make a few leading generals a little more equal than others and give them an added star. The Navy, which didn’t even have an admiral in our early wars, eventually appointed so many that it elevated its top gallants to Fleet Admiral. At least these military men had the advantage of a little previous experience.
Inflation, clearly, is working as hard on the language as it is on our groceries, and not just on prices. Olives, for example, move from “giant” to “mammoth” (sold at “super” markets or, in more modest size, “superettes”), just as the Republic itself left “The New Frontier” for “The Great Society” and is now experiencing the escalated joys of whatever it was that President Nixon christened the present Utopia. Enthusiastic nomenclature comes easily in politics, of course. At the quadrennial party convention what speaker does not come from the “great"—usually rendered “gr-r-r-eat”—state of somewhere or other? There are no nongreat states, not even Delaware or Rhode Island.
As anyone knows, inflation always increases until there is a panic or crash (nowadays labelled “recession” or “readjustment”). In the last war campaign ribbons and certain other decorations were so liberally awarded to almost everyone that the average chest looked like a rainbow. The crash, so to speak, came when Americans arrived in England and other lands where honor was less easy and tunics were bare. The so-far unblooded Americans looked about them, and off came the ribbons.
Where do we go from “Distinguished Professor”? On the campus, we suppose, one could be appointed “WorldFamous Philosopher,” “Epic Poet,” or, more modestly, “Eminent Historian,” restricted perhaps to notables over thirty. Upon retirement these emeriti would be officially designated “Grand Old Distinguished Professor,” “Grand Old Epic Poet,” etc. At NASA could we not elevate two-time astronauts to “Twice-Ascended Explorer of the Heavens”? If Russia can have living “Heroes of the Soviet Union,” can we not have, as a step up from “General of the Army,” a plain, unassuming “Hero General”? And at the bar for, say, lawyers serving in the White House and Department of Justice, the title “Honest Attorney”? A few of those so honored and not disbarred while there could no doubt be later raised still another step to “Really Honest Attorney.”
Prizes of all sorts are liberally distributed in our society, but some of us must still face the possibility that we may not win one. We have a novelist friend who has looked this problem straight in the eye and picked a great title for his next work. He calls it Winner of the Pulitzer Prize , and, as you have cleverly surmised, it is about a man who after titanic struggles and a lurid romantic life wins that very accolade. There may be a little trouble with the advertising managers of a few publications like the New York Times Book Review , but we are sure it will be smoothed over. After that he has a contract for a real smash of a best seller entitled Twice Winner of the Nobel Prize . The publisher has already contracted for billboards—a new wrinkle—and arranged a centerfold in Playboy , since the central character of his ms. is a ms. He’s as good as a mile ahead of the pack right there. We all have to do our best to overcome the problems of inflation and, if possible, anticipate them.
Perhaps we should remind readers of two of Lenin’s suggested ways of bringing down the capitalist world. One was “Debauch their currency!” and the other was “Confuse their vocabulary!” The process is moving along briskly, Vladimir Ilyich.