Pretender – Too real is this feeling of make believe

by John Holbo on May 16, 2012

Pretender, in the non-pejorative sense (and à propos of nothing in particular). Wikpedia’s definition will do: “A pretender is one who claims entitlement to an unavailable position of honour or rank. Most often it refers to a former monarch, or descendant thereof, whose throne is occupied or claimed by a rival, or has been abolished.” So, for example, Plato was pretender to the Philosopher King’s throne in a perfectly respectable sense. He wasn’t an imposter. It was his proper title. This seems to me a concept deserving of wider application and all-around democritization. When you write up your resume or CV, why list only the position you’ve got? That’s an extremely random sort of fact about yourself, on average. If we must be defined by our jobs or stations, most of us are much better defined by the offices or stations we should have – but that someone else is squatting on, through no merit of their own; or that, through no fault of our own, just don’t happen to exist. I’d be perfect for a lot of way cool jobs that don’t happen to exist. And if being perfect for the job isn’t some sort of entitlement, I don’t know how anyone can be entitled to any job. (Not that I don’t have a good job now. I do. And I’m lucky to have it.) Pretending, in this sense, is the highest form of ethical authenticity. “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.” That is, you ought to put ‘pretender to freedom’ on your business card. If you put ‘accounts executive’ or ‘associate professor’ you are selling yourself short. Think about that kid in “The Squid and the Whale” who pretends he wrote “Hey You”. He’s not trying to fool anyone. He just thinks he should have written it. It was only a sort of accident that Roger Waters got there first. Makes a certain amount of sense.

What should your business card say?

Take it away, Platters!



Nick 05.16.12 at 8:31 am

It seems to be acceptable in some contexts. “Ladies and gentleman… the next President of the United States”. I guess “next” implies a technically available position.


John Quiggin 05.16.12 at 8:58 am

My website quotes a description of me as the ‘Krugman of the Antipodes’, so I guess I’m just waiting for the emergence of a New York Times of the Antipodes to claim my rightful spot there. Sadly, my gig with the Wall Street Journal of the Antipodes has come to an all-too-predictable end.


John Holbo 05.16.12 at 9:09 am

“The New York Times Of Australia” is an excellent name for a paper of record.


Jim Rose 05.16.12 at 9:39 am

my favour pretender was theBritish sovereign for most of 500 years up to 1801 styled themselves Kings of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. The French took it fairly well, but out of spite up until 1907 made Scots automatic French citizens


Emily 05.16.12 at 10:05 am

How about Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Gentleman of Shallot”

“Which eye’s his eye?
Which limb lies
next the mirror?
For neither is clearer
nor a different color
than the other,
He felt in modesty
his person was
half looking-glass,
for why should he
be doubled?
But he’s resigned
to such economical design.
If the glass slips
he’s in a fix —
only one leg, etc. But


Emily 05.16.12 at 10:06 am

Ooops “Shalott”


bexley 05.16.12 at 11:05 am

so I guess I’m just waiting for the emergence of a New York Times of the Antipodes

That might imply the eventual emergence of a Bobo of the Antipodes and Moustache of Understanding of the Antipodes. Thoughts too frightful to contemplate.


John Quiggin 05.16.12 at 11:20 am

@bexley I’m thinking of candidates right now!


Zamfir 05.16.12 at 11:38 am

The Moustaches can never meet, since they live on two sides of the flat coin.


bexley 05.16.12 at 11:47 am

The next six months will determine whether we see the emergence of democracy in Iraq the New York Times of the Antipodes.


Barry Freed 05.16.12 at 12:50 pm

Yet “Pierre Menard, Pretender to the Author of the Quixote” would be a very different sort of work.


Barry 05.16.12 at 1:51 pm

John Holbo 05.16.12 at 9:09 am

” “The New York Times Of Australia” is an excellent name for a paper of record.”

What’s the term? ‘Colonial cringe’?


Steven 05.16.12 at 1:59 pm

The title on your business card, or on your CV, describes how you are relevant to a process, institution or transaction based on the authority granted to you, that you have staked out, or that you intend to stake out given what follows on the CV (in the case of the self-employed).

It is of no use, in this context, for you to intend to stake out something that is unavailable to be staked out. Being aware of one’s place in a scheme is its own form of ethical authenticity. “Entitled” implies “ought” which implies “can.”

This is still a neat exercise in imagination. I am a pretender to the throne of curmudgeonliness.


William Timberman 05.16.12 at 2:19 pm

My first thought about this had something to do with Whitman’s idea of containing multitudes, and the ways in which we’re sold short by labelers toiling in the bowels of our corporate and media giants.

Maybe what we need is a citizen’s and free-laborer’s business card, which gives only name and serial number (no rank) on one side, and this on the other:

What you see is
what you get
and yet

What you can’t see
and don’t get
is your deficiency


ponce 05.16.12 at 2:21 pm

Chief toymaker to the king


Peter Hovde 05.16.12 at 2:24 pm

“Abdel Al-Hazred Professor of Advanced Madness at Miskatonic University.”


Emily 05.16.12 at 2:29 pm

Re: NYT of the Antipodes, there is the Global Mail I suppose…


Henry (not the famous one) 05.16.12 at 3:00 pm

Terrestrial Representative of the God of Noise (Hubbub, Rhubarb, Bang, Clangor, Clatter)


Peter Glavodevedhzhe 05.16.12 at 3:03 pm



Neville Morley 05.16.12 at 3:31 pm

Friend of the Night.

I am also, in the manner of a deposed monarch, deeply attached to a title I used to hold, and so am strongly inclined to describe myself as ‘Formerly Professor of Ancient Economic History and Historical Theory at the University of Bristol’.


ajay 05.16.12 at 3:45 pm

Or possibly: “Professor of Ancient Economic History and Historical Theory at the University of Bristol Quondam Professor of Ancient Economic History and Historical Theory at the University of Bristol Futurusque”?


Data Tutashkhia 05.16.12 at 3:56 pm

What should your business card say?

I don’t know what it should say, but it does calls me an “officer”. I’m used to it now, and it doesn’t amuse me anymore.


phosphorious 05.16.12 at 4:52 pm

This thread reminds me of this thread:

Everyone, I expect, is pretender to the Duke of Earl.


neurosciencist 05.16.12 at 4:54 pm

I saw an academic CV the other day with a section entitled “Rejections and Failures” which listed all the grants / awards / prizes that this person had applied for and not received. I’m thinking of adding the same to my CV – it would make it a lot longer!


QB 05.16.12 at 5:32 pm

To make your CV a lot longer, include positions you think you have had in past lives. Though that might be post-tending rather than pretending.


Dave 05.16.12 at 5:56 pm



Substance McGravitas 05.16.12 at 6:02 pm


Emily 05.16.12 at 6:26 pm

Substance, little known fact. In English law the commons and the waste (used to mean vast) are kind of interchangeable.
What is your link to?


Emily 05.16.12 at 6:28 pm

Waste lands of the Crown, that should say sorry .


Doug 05.16.12 at 6:31 pm

Connector of Experience
Seeker of the Box (that people are trying to think out of)
Tender of Lost Conversational Threads

When I try to think what position anyone would hire this person for, all I come up with is
King’s Fool


Emily 05.16.12 at 7:10 pm

When my phone was taken in Portugal, the police report sent to was addressed to The Excellent Lady – I’ll take that :)


Emily 05.16.12 at 7:10 pm

When my phone was taken in Portugal, the police report sent to me was addressed to The Excellent Lady – I’ll take that :)


John Quiggin 05.16.12 at 7:36 pm

@Neuroscientist That would be a great section for me. I believe (but can’t prove) that I have received more rejections from academic journals than any other economist. At least, I have published a lot and (I think) get more rejections per published article than most of my competitors for this dubious honor. Admittedly, the rejection rate for most econ journals is greater than 90 per cent, and mine is well below that, but I don’t think that rate applies to most economists who have the 100+ articles needed to be competitive in this field.


bianca steele 05.16.12 at 8:24 pm

I think one should get extra points for spelling the title or institution wrong.


bianca steele 05.16.12 at 8:36 pm

That’s a really good way to reconnect with an ex on social media, btw. Pretend you went to their college, and spell it wrong. (Bonus points for not listing any info other than that you graduated from college.)


Emily 05.16.12 at 9:12 pm

If you’re an Earl and choose not to associate with Viscounts or Marquises a bonus is that you might refer to anyone else as churlish ;)


mattski 05.16.12 at 9:14 pm

“I cannot go on like this”


Yarrow 05.16.12 at 11:35 pm

In the early seventies I was in a meeting with a whistle-blower, somebody who’d been fired from the U.S. Department of Defense. He’d had an ID card made with his name and title: Authorized Person. He claimed that it had, more than once, worked to get him into places marked “Authorized Personnel Only”.


dilbert dogbert 05.17.12 at 12:26 am

Didn’t Doughy Pant Load, he of Liberal Nazism, beat you to this idea with his book jacket cover mentions of Pulitzer Prize whatever?
My card reads: “Chief Jackass In Charge of Step and Fetchit for the Wife” This is true but what would be great would be: “Pretender to Maximum Leader”


Emily 05.17.12 at 2:55 am

It’s evidently Barry Hannah – Geronimo Rex + Captain Maximus


Bruce McCulley 05.17.12 at 3:48 am

I’ve just finished rereading LOTR (for the seventh or eighth time), so I pondered what title would look good on a business card, and best suit my stature. “Mayor of Michel Delving” has a nice ring to it.

42 05.17.12 at 4:31 am

This has inspired me again to have business cards made after Wile E Coyote’s: “Genius. Have Brain, Will Travel”


bad Jim 05.17.12 at 4:50 am

By now, ETA Hoffmann has nearly merged with his character and alter-ego the Kapellmeister Kreisler.

The best title I conceived for myself, back when I was a position to do so, was Senior Systems Synthesist. Someone else I knew, the technology assistant to a billionaire, chose the title “metrologist” specifically because nearly no one would know what it meant.

My local baseball team is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in comparison to which the NY Times of Oz doesn’t sound at all odd.


Adam Roberts 05.17.12 at 8:56 am

According to my old Welsh gran (now sadly deceased) our family is lineally descended from Owain Glendwr, the last truly Welsh prince of Wales. As my parents’ first born this makes me an actual Pretender. On the down side, I have yet to meet a Welsh person who doesn’t make the same claim.


ajay 05.17.12 at 9:07 am

I saw an academic CV the other day with a section entitled “Rejections and Failures” which listed all the grants / awards / prizes that this person had applied for and not received

Isn’t there a Kipling character who describes himself as “BA (Calcutta) (failed)”?


Jim Rose 05.17.12 at 9:24 am

see for a discussion of classic rejected breakthrough papers across all the sciences in How to Reject any Scientific Manuscript by DIETER GERNERT

The medicine Nobel prize 2005 was awarded to Robin Warren and Barry Marshall for their (re-)discovery of the bacterium named helicobacter pylori; in contrast to earlier chance observers, Warren and Marshal had elucidated its medical significance.

But initially they encountered a rather hesitating and reluctant acceptance, and when they wanted to publish their findings, their earliest articles were rejected as incredible; even accepted papers were significantly delayed. Nowadays infection with H. pylori is held responsible for the majority of all stomach ulcers.


rea 05.17.12 at 10:36 am

@44–Can you call spirits from the vasty deep?


Adam Roberts 05.17.12 at 11:01 am

@47. No. I can DM them on Twitter, though.


ajay 05.17.12 at 12:48 pm

Aye, so can I, and so can any man; but will they retweet when you do DM them?


Emily 05.17.12 at 1:25 pm

According to my Ma, from my Great Aunty, one side of the family are descended from George Buchanan (classical tutor of Mary Queen of Scots among other things) – but he had no legitimate children…


Emily 05.17.12 at 1:32 pm

BTW, if it so be, I think that last fact takes away any obligations of filial obligation….


Barry Freed 05.17.12 at 1:50 pm

According to my grandfather (who had it from an eminent French historian of his acquaintance) we are descended from Alaric King of the Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410 CE (three or four times IIRC). If they ever find that treasure under the Busento I suppose I’ll have to file a family claim.


nnyhav 05.17.12 at 3:38 pm

As a consultant across various domains I’ve long self-described as ‘itinerant kibitzer’ (yes on my bizcard, no on my cv); I considered ‘peripatetic’ but felt that more appropriate to management consulting.


del2124 05.17.12 at 4:08 pm

I’ve always thought I would make an awesome colonial governor….


ajay 05.17.12 at 5:44 pm

Peripatetic, I think, implies that you keep coming round again and again. Itinerant gives more of a feel that you come by once and then you’re off down the road.

It’s a khodit’ / idti distinction, I think.


Patrick 05.17.12 at 9:36 pm

Since I adore k.d. lang, and I like the sound of it, I’m going for “Vegan, Lesbian, Chanteuse.”


bexley 05.17.12 at 10:32 pm

I still get moderate amusement from my business cards stating MA FIA.


JakeB 05.17.12 at 10:51 pm

In the bad old days of working in business, I recall a personnel exercise I was forced to participate in, the designer of which program listing his degrees as including ‘PHD ABD American University’.

Also, a good friend of mine printed his thesis on the backs of rejection letters he received while applying for faculty positions. He regretted that he was 20 letters short of being able to print a second copy. (It was a short thesis, though.)

“Evil Overlord” would be my pretend title, I would like to think.


Joshua W. Burton 05.17.12 at 11:08 pm

It’s fairly common at young tech startups for business-card policy to be “write your own title.” The developers, in my experience, tend to go for King of the Wicker People, Do Not Taunt and similar, while the executive assistant who answers the home office phone is traditionally Supreme Allied Commander. Mark Zuckerberg’s was, famously, I’m CEO, Bitch.

The New York Times of Australia should of course have “All The News That’s Fit To Print” at the bottom of page 1, upside down. The banner motto at the top of the page should be (old chestnut, probably from the Monica Lewinsky era) “Thank God We Got The Convicts, And They Got The Puritans.”


John Quiggin 05.18.12 at 4:22 am

@BadJim I was once a part-time regulator of metrology for the state of Queensland.


js. 05.18.12 at 5:27 am

Pretender to the pretender to the throne (inspired by Barry Freed’s comment at 11–best thing I’ve read on the ‘nets in weeks).


ajay 05.18.12 at 8:33 am

I still get moderate amusement from my business cards stating MA FIA.

I still regret not paying the (fairly small) fee that would have allowed me to put “M.I.B.” on mine. I’m regretting it even more this summer.


ajay 05.18.12 at 8:34 am

my favour pretender was theBritish sovereign for most of 500 years up to 1801 styled themselves Kings of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. The French took it fairly well, but out of spite up until 1907 made Scots automatic French citizens

The first bit I knew. The second bit I had never heard before and find really surprising – link?


Another Nick 05.18.12 at 10:03 am

#45: Isn’t there a Kipling character who describes himself as “BA (Calcutta) (failed)”?

15 years later and my resume still says: BA RMIT (nearly)

I do think about going back and putting in the hard yards…

BA MSc PhD RMIT (coming soon)?


Emily 05.18.12 at 12:24 pm

Is the first bit true? I thought union (personal) with Scotland came about with James 1 & 6. And the French? And the Bohemians and Hanoverians?
Is it a joke? Sorry if I don’t get it – put it down to my Antipodeanity…


Emily 05.18.12 at 12:27 pm

Plus, didn’t Victoria’s assumption of the throne lose territory Re: womanhood?


Emily 05.18.12 at 12:29 pm

Also, I think a Pope ‘gave’ Ireland to England in the Middle English period for a while…


Barry Freed 05.18.12 at 12:36 pm

Thanks js. you made my day.

Ajay, M.I.B. = Master of International Business?


Western Dave 05.18.12 at 1:08 pm

I’m pretender to the leadership of the Lubavitcher Hasidim (actually third in line after two older brothers) a direct descendent of Schneer-Zalman albeit on the Zalman side. However, my grandfather took the family out of orthodox Judaism and married a shicksa (actually a reform Jew, but apparently my great-grandfather always referred to her as such). If they could put up with my fondness for bacon cheeseburgers and my own Lutheran wife, I’m available.


bexley 05.18.12 at 1:49 pm

Plus, didn’t Victoria’s assumption of the throne lose territory Re: womanhood?

She couldn’t inherit the throne of Hanover so her uncle became king. Only reason I remember is because he supposedly asked the Duke of Wellington whether he should take the throne and was told to “Go before you are pelted out.”


Emily 05.18.12 at 2:27 pm

Will look up the Duke. Do you know if the Hanover throne was always strictly reserved for men in the family tree, unlike those of England (w/Wales – not sure how that came about??) and Scotland?


Alan 05.18.12 at 3:47 pm

This is easy. My card:

First-class philosopher.


bexley 05.18.12 at 3:57 pm


I read Victoria couldn’t inherit the throne because of Salic law. I never bothered to look up what that meant and just assumed it meant women can’t inherit the throne. Not sure if that has always been the case.


William Timberman 05.18.12 at 4:39 pm

Henry V, Act I, scene ii. Under English law, Henry has a legitimate claim to the throne of France. Under French (Salic) law, one cannot inherit through one’s mother. Therefore only war can decide which law prevails.


Keith Edwards 05.18.12 at 8:11 pm

Freelance Librarian

Since no institution wants to hire catalogers anymore, I’ve taken to just going around asking people if they need something alphabetized, just to keep a hand in the game. I will catalog your personal book collection and even your papers, for a small fee, of course


Emily 05.18.12 at 8:25 pm

Thanks bexley and William Timberman. I haven’t read that Shakespeare one, will do over the hols.


Tom Hurka 05.18.12 at 10:51 pm

The University of Toronto used to call itself the Harvard of the North but got a dose of reality and now calls itself the Michigan of the North.


Peter Erwin 05.18.12 at 10:51 pm

I haven’t read that Shakespeare one, will do over the hold.
Don’t forget the the Damon Runyon translation of the Salic law speech, courtesy John M. Ford.


John Quiggin 05.20.12 at 4:22 am

Both Harvard and Michigan seem quite northerly to me


Jim Rose 05.20.12 at 12:21 pm

Alay, see

Edward III claimed to be king of france in 1337. George III dropped the claim in 1801.

war and conquest and politics has a lot of do with who ended up as King

James I has a weak claim: Elizabeth’s first cousin twice removed. there was lady somebody who was a closer cousin


Emily 05.20.12 at 1:30 pm

So you hold that England and Scotland constitutionally have different crown bearers?


Jim Rose 05.21.12 at 2:40 am

England and Scotland were separate kingdoms until 1701.

succession law in the United Kingdom evolved from succession law in both England and Scotland. Originally in both countries, there were no fixed rules governing succession.

The individual could have relied on inheritance, statute, election (by Parliament or by another body), nomination (by a reigning Sovereign in his or her will), conquest or prescription (de facto possession of the Crown). see

Might was often right such as in 1066, the war of the roses and the glorious revolution. the act of settlement excluded maybe 50 heirs.


Emily 05.21.12 at 3:16 am

Surely the heirs of the Winter Queen as eldest, the second Elizabeth, were first?


Peter T 05.21.12 at 7:23 am

The titles of the French kings included King of Jerusalem. Nothing like keeping a claim alive just in case something turns up. Or of course you can always be King of Kings of the Aryans and the non-Aryans, which covers most people. Or Lord of the Soil if the people are too much bother.


Emily 05.21.12 at 10:25 am

Peter, for what period was that and under which sovereigns? Was it recognized largely in Jerusalem?
Interesting fact. According to OUP, when the courts of Chancery (of the High Chancellor and of intervention and mercy and fair-ness etc) and Common law (of the House of Commons – not traditional rights like those of rambling) – in any conflict Chancery law must overcome Common law.
Other interesting fact – not everything that has happened in England etc. counts as constitutional eg. Richard III’s ascension to the throne.


Emily 05.21.12 at 10:29 am

Should read – when the Courts of Chancery and Common Law were combined. Sorry!


ajay 05.21.12 at 11:20 am

“Surely the heirs of the Winter Queen as eldest, the second Elizabeth, were first?”

Nope – you can inherit the throne through the female line, but the male line gets priority. So if the Queen dies, you have to have exhausted all her sons and all their descendants (male and female) before you get on to her daughter and her (hypothetical) descendants.

This is going to change soon, though.

Interesting trivia fact: if strict primogeniture had been in place 100 years ago, the British King in 1914 would have been Kaiser Wilhelm II (the eldest child of Queen Victoria’s eldest child).


Jim Rose 05.21.12 at 12:42 pm

the act of settlement passed by a king or two of france and spain too, as I recall.

mind you, The Parliament of Scotland was not happy with the Act of Settlement passed the Act of Security in 1704 to reserve the right to choose its own successor. the Parliament of England used exclusionary trade legislation, politics, and bribery to secure the Act of Union 1707.



Emily 05.21.12 at 12:53 pm

Ajay, Elizabeth I predates and therefore discounts your example I suspect?


Emily 05.21.12 at 12:54 pm

Jim Rose, Australia never agreed to take on all the full Act of Settlement either…


bexley 05.21.12 at 12:56 pm


Elizabeth I was the third of Henry VIII children to inherit the throne. First Edward (eldest son), who snuffed it without any children, then Mary (eldest daughter) then Elizabeth.


ajay 05.21.12 at 1:13 pm

Thanks Bexley. Emily, the rule isn’t that women can never inherit, but that men get first crack at it. So, with the current royal family, you’d have to exhaust Charles and both his sons, and Andrew and both his daughters, and Edward, before Anne got a chance – even though she’s older than Edward. Had Edward VI, Henry’s oldest son, had a child, it would have been crowned on his death – regardless of whether it was male or female, and regardless of whether he had any brothers living – and Elizabeth would have been cut out of the succession, unless the children had themselves all died without issue – in which case the throne would have gone first to their aunt Mary and then (assuming she was childless) to their aunt Elizabeth.

Hope that’s clear.


Emily 05.21.12 at 3:39 pm

So of which Stuart would the legitimate heirs have come other than Elizabeth of Bohemia, eldest daughter?


bexley 05.21.12 at 3:51 pm

93 not sure I understand the question.

Presumably under strict male primogeniture James “the Old Pretender” would have been king after his father James II. However they got booted out instead.


Emily 05.21.12 at 3:59 pm

There was not strict male inheritance, as noted!

“But Henry died untimely, and reticence hid the ambitions he may have nursed. It was in the late summer of 1612 that he fell ill…. Raleigh in the Tower had concocted an elixir, which made him sweat but could do no more. He died on the 6th November, having recovered from delirium to ask, in a sensible voice, “Where is my dear sister?”

From the lavish house that James had initially provided for Henry and his sister, Elizabeth was soon removed to Combe Abbey, near Coventry…”

From: The Royal House of Scotland pp 165-6


Emily 05.21.12 at 4:01 pm

She was last of issue of James VI & I


Emily 05.21.12 at 4:05 pm

And married the Elector of Palatine – they saw plays – including The Tempest, Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor pp166-7


Emily 05.21.12 at 4:12 pm

George I was issue of her daughter Sophia who married Ernest Augustus the Elector of Hanover.


TheSophist 05.21.12 at 6:21 pm

CT’s own Daniel Davies was described this morning by Matt Yglesias as “the Internet’s number one source for finance-related sarcasm.” That certainly belongs on a business card.


Tim Wilkinson 05.21.12 at 8:14 pm

The Internet’s number one source for finance-related sarcasm that certainly belongs on a business card.


veblen's dog 05.21.12 at 8:51 pm

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Barry Freed 05.21.12 at 8:56 pm

To answer the question in the OP: “What should your business card say?”

“Certified Voight-Kampff test administrator”


Tim Wilkinson 05.22.12 at 12:33 am

Not much call for that these days – it’s all automated.


Barry Freed 05.22.12 at 12:33 pm

We’re a dying breed.

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