By ANNE DONNELL
Dear Ms. Donnell: This may be a matter of grammar or manners. Since you have never used swear words in your column, I thought you might comment on this issue either way. It is about the way reporters address our President during interviews. It seems they all say something like, "Good morning, Mr. Obama" to a sitting president, but say, "Good morning, President Bush" to a retired president. Why do they call the current president "Mr.," but call the former presidents, "President?" It seems perverse. I think it started during the Clinton years. What is the proper way to address the President of the United States, should I get the chance? (I probably should not get the chance.)-Polite Pol, J.M.
Nice of you to note the absence of cussing in the column – not that I never feel like it, but the printed word deserves respect. As does every President of the United States, a singularly eminent distinction won by only forty-three men. (Barack Obama is the forty-fourth president, but Grover Cleveland was the twenty-second AND twenty-fourth).
When George Washington became President of the United States the matter of how to address him created a variety of opinions. Our fledgling government wanted to establish traditions and to be treated as the government of an important country, a country of substance and of noble history. The primary influence on the thinking was the recently defeated overlord – Great Britain. Two schools of thought here: (1) copy the British ways of deference to aristocrats (by birth), calling lords and ladies in special ways (a duke, “Your Grace,” for example) or (2) create titles and manners of address that reflected our democratic republic, recently formed by one of the most formidable documents in world history: the Constitution of the United States.
The second approach won out, with the class leveling “Mr.” (and eventually “Mrs.” or “Miss” or “Ms.”) applied to government titles: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary. The legislative branch would be “Senator” or “Mr. Senator,” and “Representative” or “Mr. Representative.” The judicial branch would be “Justice” or “Mr. Justice” and “Chief Justice” or Mr. Chief Justice.” In written address “The Honorable” would precede the titles of office holders, although it is proper to write a letter to a current president addressed “The President of the United States” or simply “The President.” Former presidents keep the trappings here and are addressed the same way. We tend to let a title rest with all former office holders, national, state, and local. When introducing a president, one should say, “The President of the United States,” or “The President.” One is expected to stand when a president enters the room and to address him as “Mr. President.” The use of “Sir” in speaking to a president is proper.
I, too, have noticed the newscasters’ careless use of “Mr. Obama.” The office and the person of the President of the United States are due more respect. Our QP of T (Question Person of Today) observed the casual, “Good morning, Mr. Obama,” coming from press circles. The pressroom should be resonating with “Good morning, Mr. President,” or “Good morning, President Obama,” – now that’s the ticket!
ONLINE DEPARTMENT (Thanks, AA) The Washington Post Invented Words Contest winners • Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time. • Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.• Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly. • Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future. • Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high. • Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it. • Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late. • Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.) • Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer. • Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you. • Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly. • Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web. • Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out. • Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.
BW (Bigtime Word) homunculus – manikin. Every department store should have one.