wordsout by Godfrey Rust                                       Homage au professor   4 of 7  HOME


The Naming of Professors
(after T S Eliot)

(well, not the naming of Professors after T S Eliot, because then they’d all be called T S Eliot, wouldn’t they, which would be rather pointless, but you see T S Eliot wrote this poem called The Naming of Cats, and this one is written after that, well, of course it was written after that because T S Eliot has been dead for thirty years hasn’t he? I mean everyone knows that, no, after means its kind of the same sort of thing but not quite, like this is about Professors not Cats, obviously, or else it wouldn’t be called The Naming of Professors, would it? Anyway - oh never mind)

To name a Professor requires a great tact
And much local knowledge of matters of fact.
A name used in one place without seeming cruel
Would elsewhere most surely result in a duel.
The English take decades and much loss of hair
Before they’ll let anyone sit in a chair,
But in France every Thomas, Richard or Harold
is professeur before they are vingt-cinq years old.
The Italians don’t test them on science or art —
Anyone’s a professor who dresses the part,
And the Germans use Doctor, or if I’ve got that wrong
then it’s something that’s seventeen syllables long.
The Americans settle the matter of grade
very simply: it’s yours, just as long as you’ve paid,
While in Oz they avoid ever choosing a prof
By just merging departments or selling them off.
But place isn’t all you must reckon, for sure,
For time plays it part in this nomenclature
And the way you address each particular sage
Will depend very much on his (or her) age.
At thirty their pride won’t be damaged at all
If you greet them all chummy as Fred, Jim or Col,
(Unless you’re at Oxbridge, where it’s rather put on,
And every professor I’ve met is called Don).
By forty, however, I’ve found it’s correct
To be treated with just a soupçon more respect.
The appropriate mode, as you pour alcohol in
Is “Chin-chin, Alfred”, “Cheers, James” or “Heres to you, Colin”
A professor at fifty is now quite well-known
And his foibles dissected by fax and by phone
So by now if a nickname is going to arise
He’ll be “Stinker”, or “Flatfoot” or “Old Lizard Eyes”
(Though it has to be said these apply, as a rule,
To the ones who have come out of that kind of school).
At sixty from Melbourne to Moscow it’s normal
To address a professor in manner more formal:
Just plain “Brown”, “Wilkins”, “Duckworth” you will get on well with
(Though of course if he’s French you confuse him with “Smith”*).
By the time they retire, if they’ve lasted the course,
They’ll be loved as you love an old cocker or horse
So without any loss of prestige, after all
They will gladly go back and be Fred, Jim or Col.
But of all names you name him, the finest of fine
Is the one that he graces when aged 69,
And from that day to this, when his name you declare,
You must call him Professor Extraordinaire.**


Written for Colin Duckworth on his 69th birthday, July 1995.

* The punch line of a joke popular with the family at the time of writing. You'll just have to wonder.

**The French equivalent of Professor Emeritus, apparently.