March 2, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Be Careful What You Call Your Boss

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Rep. Paul Broun might have the voting card of a Member of Congress, but the honorific he prefers is “doctor,” not “Congressman.”

And no matter where on the matter their own boss stands, staffers agree that when addressing a Member whos not their boss, formality always rules. In elevators, in the hallways or in meetings, the most respectful address seems to be the default position.

Its always Congressman, or Congresswoman, no question, one GOP House staffer says. You always remember that youre representing your boss, but that doesnt mean that youre as familiar as your boss is with his colleagues.

Even once one has sorted out who likes to be called what, theres the not-so-small matter of what to call them in writing. A first name might not be appropriate, but using only a last name might sound brusque or disrespectful. And so in internal emails and texts, many staffers refer to the boss by his or her initials.

The phenomenon persists even for Members whose middle names arent often invoked. Coburn, for example, is usually TAC, short for Thomas Allen Coburn, in his staffs internal communications.

Thats shorthand, Lamel says. Its a respectful way to save a few keystrokes.

In fact, some staffers so frequently type out initials that they begin using them in conversations, adding another name into the already jumbled pile of Hill names.

Titles can be tricky, too. Some female Members, including Boxer, like to use Chairman instead of Chairwoman. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) identifies herself as Congressman.

If its a confusing maze to navigate, theres one surefire trick to addressing a Member of Congress. McCann often offers this tip to his students, paraphrasing a quote from Harley Dirks, a powerful appropriations clerk during the 1960s: I call them all Chairman, Dirks said. If they are, they expect it, and if theyre not, theyre flattered.

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