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I just realized that newspapers sometimes end a person's name with 「さん」: 後藤さん不明、昨年11月に把握 首相、答弁で明かす:。And then sometimes end a person's name with 「氏」: 自民・山本一太氏、人質事件で与野党結束訴え:。 In this forum, I found this thread What does 氏 mean after a name, how is it different from さん or 様?。 However the accepted answer explains that the difference is 敬語{けいご}。I cannot imagine that the impersonality of a newspaper allows for 敬語?

  • What criteria decides whether to end a name with 「氏」 or 「さん」in a newspaper?
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氏 is cut out for public figures and さん is for ordinary people. さん could convey a slightly respectful nuance and that can more or less hurt fairness that newspapers must hold. (I find the order in the link determined firstly in terms of formality and that of respectfulness is secondary.)

  • An interesting contrast in the same article in English and Japanese: you'll see "Tanaka-san" is translated into 田中哲 , reflecting its public, formal setting. (Both author and translator seem to be Japanese.) – broccoli forest Jan 28 '15 at 10:43
  • @broccoliforest I think the translator got it wrong. When communicating in English, adding "san" to a Japanese name sounds playful. And, it marks that the person is different from the rest of us. Not using any title for every name sounds most formal to me "Maeda's blog", "Eistein's ideas", etc. – user312440 Jan 28 '15 at 14:25
  • @user312440 I know "san" in English is not a serious one. What I tried to say was, if you used the same さん here, it'd sound like a in-circle notice rather than public announcement. – broccoli forest Jan 28 '15 at 14:37
  • @broccoliforest Do you think that adding "さん" to "後藤" (the hostage) sort of humanizes him. "さん" brings out the feeling of "集団意識" for Japanese people. "氏" marks the person as being sort of a robot. A person marked with"氏" is just another politician, businessman, baseball player, etc. Can I describe the difference as involving "集団意識"? – user312440 Jan 28 '15 at 15:24
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    @user312440 "humanize" is indeed a good word :) In my words, さん is like a nickname, that spotlights their personality or human relations, while 氏 is like a title, emphasizes their social status or performance. Adding さん to ISIS hostages can impress on people that they're innocent victims, but some people may dislike it because it sounds undervaluing their journalistic professionalism. – broccoli forest Jan 28 '15 at 15:57

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