If an American city started up a new sports team, the media would extrude miles of text in conversations about the name. They would discuss the sound of the name, the meaning of the name, the effect of the name on player morale and audience appreciation. It’s strange, then, that there has been no public discussion about the new twitter name for the President of the United States.
Although it’s an acronym for “President of the United States”, “POTUS” is not the most obvious acronym and it’s clear a team of presidential scriptwriters and public relations experts spent a lot of time creating it.
Usually acronyms use the first letter of just the important words in a phrase, not of the little grammatical words. Think “USA” which stands for “United States of America” – it’s not “USOA”. Similarly “FBI” rather than “FBOI” represents the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
By that logic, the most obvious acronym for the President of the US would be “PUS”. American power brokers would love that, wouldn’t they? Journalists and critics would have a field day with it.
The next obvious choice would be “PUSA”. There’s nothing emasculating or otherwise embarrassing about that name, but I think the men in charge wanted to use the occasion – and the creation of a twitter handle is an occasion – to create an altered image, to condition the American public, and people all over the world, to a new understanding of what it means to be the President of the United States, in fact to add to the construction of that role.
“POTUS” is an attractive sounding word, which means the media is picking it up and using it to refer to the man rather than just to the twitter account. I’ve already seen it used in online media without the twitter @ sign. It’s much more attractive to the ear than” PUSA”. Why is that?
I think because it’s a word that vibrates with power. The first of the two syllables is dominated by the strong vowel “o”, which is surrounded on both sides with the explosive sounds of two plosive consonants, “p” and “t”. The second syllable is closed, ending with a consonant rather than the vowel ending of “PUSA”. The effect is one of finality, of the mouth closing in completion.
All three consonants expel air forcefully. Compare the strong “P-T-S” with the string “B-D-Z”. The first is a series of hammer hits, the second more like the sound of a slippered foot on carpet. And of the course, the final sound of this word is the hiss of the “S”. In “PUSA” that “S” is muffled with the surrounding vowels. In “POTUS” it is a lingering harshness.
The first syllable will remind people, consciously or unconsciously, of words like “potent” and “potentate” – words that refer to people with substantial power. That’s deliberate. So is the fact that the word ends in a hiss, which suggests danger.
This word advertises to the world that the President of the US is a powerful, potent figure who needs to be carefully watched, lest he unleash that power.
I predict that very shortly American media outlets will stop using such factual and banal phrases as “The President of the United States”, or “The American president”. Because of the attractiveness of the acronym, they’ll replace those terms with “POTUS”. And the world will be conditioned to regard the man, whoever he is, as having possibly dangerous and fatal power. A man to watch. A man to be wary of.
In time the name of the man won’t be important. No one will refer to “The American president, Sam Smith”. They’ll simply refer to “POTUS”.
The man will be unimportant, the position all-important. Will that be democracy?
Normally changes in social conditioning happen at about the same speed as icebergs melt, imperceptibly slowly until one day decades or centuries after the change began people might notice that things are different. What we’re seeing with the “re-branding” of the American President is the first step in what may well be a deliberately-created, world-changing attitude toward America and its power.