January 28, 2010

Language Tips: Piece of mind or peace of mind & academic degrees

Posted in academic degrees, piece/peace of mind at 6:10 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Piece of mind or peace of mind

I recently received an email from a colleague whose home had been burglarized. He wrote:

Not much was taken, but my piece of mind is shattered!

After my initial anger about his house being robbed waned, I had to smile; the writer’s peace of mind was affected not his piece of mind. But then I thought, when I am annoyed, I might give someone a piece of my mind, so I can understand it when peace of mind and piece of mind are confused!

Peace of mind refers to a state of calmness. When you give someone a piece of your mind, you are telling the person off, and it usually is a reprimand.

Incidentally, it used to be that marriage ceremonies included the words, ‘Speak now, or forever hold your peace.’ The correct word is peace not piece, and in this context, it means to keep silent.


Tip 2: Academic degrees

A reader writes:

Bachelor degree? or Bachelors degree? or Bachelor’s degree? (ditto re Masters).


This is a great topic, as it is a source of great confusion for many of us and with good cause: None of the style guides or manuals agree. And what a great opportunity for me! After reviewing many style guides, I can choose what I think is best and tell you that this is the best choice, so here goes!

When abbreviating degrees some style guides say use periods between letters (e.g., M.P.H., Ph.D.); others do not (e.g., MS, BA, MPH, PhD).

I say, forget the periods-it’s too much work, they have no style, and they do not add anything to the meaning of the abbreviation. So, periods begone.

When referring to a master’s or bachelor’s degree generically, spell the degree in lower case, and always use an apostrophe (e.g., a master’s degree, his bachelor’s degree). Pretty much all of the style manuals concur on this one.

But when referring to a PhD or other doctoral degree, some guides say you should only use doctorate or doctor’s degree and never doctoral degree (e.g., he earned his doctorate at CMU, NOT He received his doctoral degree from Harvard). Other guides, including Pitt’s style guide see nothing wrong with using doctoral degree (e.g., he earned his doctoral degree at Pitt).

[NOTE: You didn’t know Pitt had a style guide? It’s put out by Pitt’s University Marketing Communications office. I don’t reference it much because I don’t always agree with the style decisions, but if you are interested in checking it out, go to: <http://www.umc.pitt.edu/styleguide/>]

I say, doctor’s degree sounds funny when referring to other than a medical degree, so I would avoid it. I think doctorate sound better than doctoral degree, so that would be my preference, but I don’t feel strongly about it and wouldn’t make a fuss either way.

Finally, what do we do when referring to a specific degree (e.g., master of fine arts degree, Doctor of Philosophy in economics)? Some, like Pitt, capitalize the name of the degree but not the academic subject (e.g., Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics, Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology). [NOTE: Pitt is inconsistent with respect to this usage.]

Others write the whole thing in lower case (e.g., bachelor of arts degree in psychology, doctor of philosophy degree in economics).

I say, write the whole thing in lower case, and don’t worry about it.

Finally, never use a title and the degree together (e.g., Dr. Ralph Kramden, PhD). That’s definitely overkill.



  1. Steve Ford said,

    I noticed in Tip 1 (Piece of mind or peace of mind) your reference to his house being “robbed”. Burglary and Robbery are two distinct crimes and the terms are not interchangeable. People are robbed when something is taken by force (actual or threat of) and unocuppied buildings and vehicles are burglarized. Somewhat confusing is the term “bank robbery” but the concept is the same. An unoccupied bank is burglarized and money is taken by force from employees and customers during a robbery.

    • Anon said,

      Just a little info about burglary: A lot of people misconceive burglary to having something to do with theft. Actually burglary itself has nothing to do with theft. Burglary is breaking and entering with intent to commit another felony. In many cases that felony is in fact theft. It could also be, for instance, strangulation. So burglary doesn’t necessarily depend upon theft but rather another felony.

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