Anybody remember who's president?
I had to send a note around to the copy editors this week reminding them not to let references to former Pope John Paul II get past them. Once you’re pope, you stay pope. We might as well write about former Queen Victoria.
That point did put me in mind of an allied journalistic reflex, references public figures no longer in office, say, former President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon has been in his grave (so far as we know) for 14 years. He left office 34 years ago. Is there anyone, even in this benighted country, who would mistake a mention of Nixon as a reference to the incumbent?
That tic, in fact, is matched by the other standard reference to former office-holders: He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1937 by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even a dim reader can confidently be expected to figure out from the mention of the year that the sentence is identifying the man who was president at that time. Of course, we could say former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, indicating, perhaps, that Roosevelt was out of office at the time of the appointment. Or would that have to be then-former President Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Wielding a mighty cursor, I’m inclined now to strike any number of formers and thens. We’ll see whether anyone complains.