The faster we move, the more abbreviations and acronyms we use, and when it comes to talking about the folks who reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—otherwise known as the White House—there are plenty of acronyms to choose from.
The White House has always been home to POTUS (President of the United States). As we have yet to have a female or gay president, if the president is married, it’s also been home to his wife, known as FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States).
Where did POTUS come from?
The late William Safire, who was an author, columnist, lexicographer (sweet), and speechwriter for the Nixon White House, once wrote of the usage of POTUS in the Nixon administration: “As a Presidential aide in 1969, I first noticed this acronym on a label of an extension of a five-line telephone along the back wall of the West Wing’s Cabinet Room. When the button next to that label lighted up, the phone was answered with special alacrity. A similar button labeled POTUS was on the telephone set of H. R. Haldeman, the President’s chief of staff, and was used by him for calls both from and to Mr. Nixon.”
Safire also wrote that President Johnson’s aide Jack Valenti saw the POTUS designation on phones but didn’t recall it being used as an everyday figure of speech—same for Hamilton Jordan of the Carter White House.
POTUS may have come into pop culture vogue with Safire’s 1977 White House novel Full Disclosure, as a “pet name adopted by the unmarried President’s inamorata-photographer. She felt awkward calling the Chief Executive by his first name, and ‘Mr. President’ was not appropriate for intimate moments; POTUS was her solution.”
The actual use of the POTUS acronym may go back a lot further than the 1960s, though. A book known as The Phillips Code, published in 1879, dates POTUS back to the 1880s and the use of the telegraph! A continuity website for The West Wing mentions that President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the term POTUS for himself, in communications with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Where does FLOTUS come from?
Nancy Reagan is thought by many to be the inspiration behind the FLOTUS acronym. However, the term first lady was coined by Zachary Taylor: The wife of the president was known as the presidentress until Zachary Taylor gave a eulogy to Dolley Madison and called her this term instead
Of course, the acronyms don’t stop with the very top positions. The vice president has the acronym VPOTUS, but there is no matching term for the wife of the vice president—that would be SLOTUS? Second Lady of the United States?
What’s a SOTU?
These days the SOTU—that’s short for State of the Union—doesn’t occur at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Presidents travel to Capitol Hill to present their annual update on the state of the nation to Congress, and they’ve been doing so since 1947 when Harry S. Truman delivered the first-ever SOTU. Truman wasn’t the first president to deliver a message to Congress, but he was the first to do it under this name, making a mark in the history books!
What’s the origin of VEEP?
Then, there’s the term VEEP. While we know it these days as a popular HBO show starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it’s thought that Alben W. Barkley, President Truman’s second-term vice president, was the first to be referred to in that manner, with VEEP “created perhaps as a conflation of the pedestrian vice-presidential abbreviation VP with VIP, meaning ‘very important person,’ the latter a usage that emerged before the Second World War.”
How does Twitter handle the presidency?
Twitter has been a prime means of communication for the incoming POTUS. The Twitter handle @POTUS is reserved for the current office holder, and it went online in 2015.
Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.
— President Obama (@POTUS44) May 18, 2015
Once President Obama left office, the archive of his tweets moved to @POTUS44, with Donald Trump gaining access to @POTUS, though he’s known for tweeting from @RealDonaldTrump.
And of course, we can’t forgot to mention the United States Supreme Court which is routinely referred to in the media as SCOTUS, as well as ROTUS, or White House Receptionist.
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