General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

When and why did people start referring to the President of the US as the POTUS?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (30810points) May 26th, 2011

It seems that I woke up one morning, and everyone was using POTUS to refer to the president. I was bewildered at first and had to ask someone what it meant.

When did this start?

Personally, I don’t like it. It’s the president we’re talking about, after all. It doesn’t take that much time to type it out.

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26 Answers

_zen_'s avatar

There are many Presidents, he is the President of the Unites States of America. Now write an article of 2000 words, and write that 15 times.

I don’t think it’s offensive, and I don’t think its txtspk. It’s just an Acronym – like CIA or FBI. The President, or Presidency, is not so much about a person but more about an office.

Poser's avatar

It started many years ago with the Secret Service, I believe. There is also FLOTUS.

bob_'s avatar

It’s been around for a very long time.

Off the top of my head, I can think of the first episode of The West Wing, filmed in 1999, where the acronym is used.

jrpowell's avatar

I remember seeing it early in the Bush administration. Around when I decided to hangout on the Internet instead of getting laid.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

From the OED:
POTUS, n. (The) President of the United States.Originally a newspaper wire and telegraph code word; later used esp. among White House staff before passing into more general use.

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈpəʊtəs/ , U.S. /ˈpoʊdəs/
Forms: 18– potus, 19– POTUS, 19– Potus.
Etymology: Acronym < the initial letters of President of the United States. Compare FLOTUS n.
slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
1895 Birmingham (Alabama) Age-Herald 14 Apr. 21/3 In addition the more frequent phrases are skeletonized to the limit of safety. ‘Scotus’ is ‘supreme court of the United States’; ‘potus’, ‘president of the United States’.
1903 Fort Wayne (Indiana) News 25 Feb. 5/2 This is the way a message is sent on the wire: T potus, ixs, wi km to Kevy‥. This jargon of letters conveys the following information: The president of the United States, it is said, will communicate to King Edward VII.
1937 R. W. Desmond & H. J. Laski Press & World Affairs ii. 76 The Phillips code, patented in 1879,‥was used by telegraph operators as a sort of telegraphic shorthand wherein combinations of letters stood for groups of words. Thus‥‘ potus’ meant ‘President of the United States’.
1983 Washington Post (Nexis) 20 Sept. c1 To their Secret Service shadows they may be ‘ potus’ and ‘ flotus’, but to each other‥he’s still her ‘Ronnie’ and she’s still his ‘Nancy’.
1999 New Scientist 26 June 57/1 The Potus showed up, spoke, no one threw up or passed out, and all the NIH officials clapped themselves on the back for a job well done.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@johnpowell : That’s a different web site for that problem.

@MyNewtBoobs : Thank you. I have a compact OED, so it would have taken me forever to look that up.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@hawaii_jake No problem. I have a full subscription through my school.

If you watch the episodes of the West Wing that it’s in (yeah, it’ll take some combing through, but it’s a good show, there are worse ways to spend your time), the people in the West Wing (not the media) use it to mean the office, not the person, and I think they do it in a way that highlights how it can be very respectful, but also mindful that when you’re the Director of Communications for the president, or in the White House Press Corp, it definitely does take a long time to write that out for every single post-it, memo, etc, probably several hundred (or thousand) times a day.

_zen_'s avatar

^ That was my point – it’s about the Office of the Presidency – whoever the President happens to be at the time. I actually prefer First Lady – FLOTUS is pushing it a bit. But that’s me.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

It’s just that POTUS and FLOTUS and SCOTUS sound like character names out of a Disney movie.

_zen_'s avatar

It is a funnilly sounding word – if said out loud. I completely agree Jakey. But when written, it’s merely an acronym of the Office of the Presidency – and the fully written President of the United States of America… well, that’s something a North Korean Dictator might insist upon. Not Obama – who is fond of twitter. I have a feeling that Obama, the man and the President, would be the first to come up with a short form of that if it hadn’t already existed. He would tweet something like: sheesh, that’s long man. Just call me POTUS or something.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@hawaii_jake I can see that, but unfortunately, “it sounds silly” is generally not recognized as the best argument for something being disrespectful. Otherwise, it would be disrespectful to call my governor by his name, “Hickenlooper”.

Plucky's avatar

This is the first time I’ve heard of it.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t like it. It sounds too much like bogus.

longtresses's avatar

another vote down for POTUS… kids need fillers to fill up their papers..

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JLeslie's avatar

I think it is more in use now due to the world shrinking smaller and smaller and the 24 hour news cycle. The average person is more exposed to international politics as entertainment, I really think people who years ago never watched the news, watch politics and coverage of world events. Anyway, my point is when talking about domestic affairs, President is sufficient. When their is two or more Presidents of two or more countries in the discussion or report, there is more need to clarify which President from which country, and then the shorthand is convenient. But, I hate the word. I wish they used USP, and only in written documents.

WasCy's avatar

What I like better than POTUS and FLOTUS are the Secret Service code names for Presidents and family members.

roundsquare's avatar

I think it became popular with the west wing. “POUTS in a bicycle accident” and all.

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deni's avatar

I am clearly behind the times. I have never in my life heard this. If I would have before I saw this question, I would have been totally confuzzled.

cockswain's avatar


dbyrddc's avatar

This tem came into popular usage because a segment of the population refuses to call a Black man “Mr. President”. It is a total lack of respect.

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