usingtherightwords

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POTUS, SCOTUS, FLOTUS — Excuse Us


I was reading Time magazine (again! How did I ever come up with post ideas without it?) and I saw the acronym SOTU. As this was an article about the President, I knew in context that it stood for State of the Union, as in the address Obama gave last week.

That got me thinking. When did these acronyms come into being? I only remember POTUS (President of the United States) going back to George W. Bush, and SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) about the time John Roberts became Chief Justice.

Leave it to the late, great William Safire. He famously wrote “On Language” in the New York Times Magazine from 1979 to September 2009, the month he died. I found online an “On Language” column from Oct. 12, 1997. In it, Safire explains that POTUS goes back to his time in the Richard Nixon White House, although former Motion Picture Academy President Jack Valenti remembers it from his time in the Lyndon Johnson White House.

Safire wrote that he next saw POTUS in a 1977 novel Full Disclosure. No wonder — he wrote the novel. FLOTUS, or First Lady of the United States, goes back to Mary Todd Lincoln, Safire said.

Bert Lance, Jimmy Carter’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget, told Safire he saw POTUS  as a Secret Service designation to indicate where Carter was at any given moment. Safire said it first appeared in print in 1983 — in the New York Times, to no one’s surprise — in an editorial that commented on  the escalation of acronyms:

”Is no Washington name exempt from shorthand? The Chief Magistrate responsible for executing the laws is sometimes called the Potus (President of the United States). The nine men who interpret them are often the Scotus. The people who enact them are still, for better or worse, Congress.”

Not COTUS, at least not yet.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

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February 7, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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