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Thomas Hauck, Editor: Capitalization of Job Titles and the “Janitor Rule”

I subscribe to the New Yorker. It’s a great magazine and I look forward to every issue.

I’ve noticed, though, that they have a odd approach to capitalizing job titles, specifically that of the president of the United States. Let’s look at two examples from the August 27, 2012 issue and the article entitled “Schmooze or Lose,” which examines President Obama’s personal approach to fundraising.

In the first paragraph, we read this: “For a busy President, such events could be a chore.” If I were editing that sentence, I’d put “president” in lower case. Why? Because we’re talking about the job. It’s not a proper name. Here is my test: I always substitute the job title “janitor,” and see if it needs capitalization. Here is the sentence: “For a busy janitor, such events could be a chore.” Perfect. And yes, if your sentence read, “I went to Janitor Jones for cleaning supplies…” you’d capitalize “Janitor” because you’re using it as a substitute for his first name.

Clearly, the New Yorker is trying to be respectful, but their approach is not very democratic (with a lower case “d”). “President” is just a job title like any other – janitor, football coach, chairman, administrative assistant, executive vice president, or sales manager.

There’s more. A few paragraphs later they say this: “He reserved some of the harshest words of his Presidency for the Citizens United ruling…” There’s no reason to capitalize “presidency.” It’s not a proper name.

And then, “He says that Republican spending in the Presidential race…” Here, “presidential” is an adjective describing the word “race.” To see an adjective capitalized is very unusual!

The New Yorker’s policy is selective. In the same article, “Anna Wingate, the editor of Vogue…” is correct. It’s just a job title, not a proper name.

Thomas Hauck ghostwriter, book editor, author

– Thomas Hauck, freelance book editor in the Boston area, works with both first-time and established authors. Contact Tom today to learn more about how your book can be brought to its highest level.


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