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:
- For a current president, use “President X” for the first reference, then “Mr. X” for all remaining references
- 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!