Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Presidential Grammar

Last night on All Things Considered, Robert Siegel outlined the official NPR rules for presidential grammar in a response to a letter from an irritated viewer. Being a total geek, I was thrilled to know that that there was an official policy and to hear it explained, but I must admit I’m not sure I understand it. The rules seem to be:

  1. For a current president, use “President X” for the first reference, then “Mr. X” for all remaining references
  2. For an elected but not yet serving president, who happens to currently be a Senator, use “President-Elect Y” for the first reference, then “Senator Y” for all remaining references

I can understand that President-Elect Obama is a long and inelegant title and that Senator Obama is more compact. However, it seems to me that “Senator” includes the same number of syllables as “President” and is, if anything, a less valued title given that presidential approval ratings are in the 20%’s (Who on earth are the people who still approve of him, by the way?) but Congress hit 9%. So why does the President get demoted to “Mr.” while the President-Elect gets demoted only to “Senator”? Grammar nitpickers in my reading public, please help!


Raymond said...

And it contradicts NPR's own style guide which says that for non-Presidents, it's "Firstname Lastname, Title" on first mention and "Lastname" on subsequent.

Anonymous said...

I think it also has to do with the decisions made during the founding of the U.S. government. Trying to impress the idea of equality (ha ha) between people, Founding Fathers resisted the urge to create grand titles for the presidency. I think it might have been Jefferson who insisted on nothing more than "Mr." or "Mr. President" at the worst. Senators were not so restrained.