The Grammarphobia Blog

Is the president being dissed?

Q: The New York Times used to capitalize the word “president” when referring to the leader of the United States, but the paper now lowercases it. Is the Times dissing President Bush?

A: When the Times revised its stylebook in 1999, the newspaper decided to keep “president” capitalized before the last name of the current US president (“President Bush”), but to lowercase the word by itself in a second reference (“the president”). Previously, all references to the president of the United States were capitalized: “The President accompanied Mrs. Reagan.”

Similarly, the Times in 1999 changed its capitalization style with reference to other titles: for example, “senator” and “mayor” now are capitalized only before a name (“Senator Clinton”; “Mayor Bloomberg”), but not in subsequent references (“the senator said”; “according to the mayor”).

I don’t know the rationale for the changes, but in general the newspaper’s style seems to get more informal as the years go by. I’d think an informal guy like George W. Bush would appreciate that.

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