It has been over fifty years since Roger Brown and Albert Gilman published their classic article "The pronouns of power and solidarity" (American Anthropologist 4/6:24-39, 1960), analyzing what they called the T/V distinction. The letters refer not to a device on which one views reality shows, NOVA, soap operas, etc., but to the familiar (T for Latin or French tu) vs. formal (V for Latin vos/French vous) pronouns used to address someone. To oversimplify somewhat, reciprocal T expresses solidarity, and reciprocal V may also do so; non-reciprocal usage — using V to someone with superior status and receiving T from that person, or vice versa to someone of inferior status — expresses what Brown & Gilman called the power semantic. English, of course, can't express this difference with pronouns, because our only second person pronoun in general usage is you. But English does have address forms that capture the basic social distinction: reciprocal first-name (or sometimes last-name) usage for the solidarity semantic, non-reciprocal first-name vs. title plus last name for the power semantic. So, for instance, my formidable sixth-grade music teacher called me Sally, and I called her Miss Boe. Anything else would have been unthinkable.
All this is very old news. But I just ran across an interesting example in a terrific book I've been reading — David Halberstam's last book, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War.
The example is in a passage about Averell Harriman and Douglas MacArthur. President Truman has sent Harriman to MacArthur's headquarters in Japan to try to get MacArthur to toe the administration's line in the conduct of the war. This effort fails, as do all other efforts to control MacArthur's behavior (the famous general is far from being a hero in this book). The linguistic interest comes in Halberstam's account of the first meeting between these two powerful men (p. 217):
Harriman `was in some ways as grand a figure as MacArthur, had been a major player almost as long, and was in no way intimidated by the general. On arrival, when MacArthur had first-named him — "Averell, good to see you" — he had first-named the commander right back; if it was Averell, then it would be Douglas as well.'
The implication is that MacArthur was expecting, or at least looking for, non-reciprocal T/V usage, in which he would address Harriman by his first name and would get title and last name — "General MacArthur" — in return. But it didn't work, because Harriman wouldn't play. MacArthur, to judge by Halberstam's account, viewed himself as residing at the top of a hierarchy comparable to the one depicted in Froissart's late 14th-century Chronicle of France, described by Brown & Gilman as follows: `God says T to His angels and they say V; all celestial beings say T to man and receive V.'