The first “Second Gentleman”

By Joseph Diorio

It looks like Douglas Emhoff, the spouse of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, will become the first Second Gentleman of the United States.

Juxtaposing the words “first” and “Second” in that usage is confusing enough, but just where did the term Second Gentleman come from? According to a historian of U.S. Presidents, the title is not formal, and it has come into fashion more recently than one might think. It apparently grew out of the custom of calling the spouse of the president First Lady which, by the way, also is not a formal title.

“The title First Lady was first used when describing Dolly Madison, the wife of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. President Zachary Taylor used it when he delivered Mrs. Madison’s eulogy (in 1849),” says Alvin S. Felzenberg, a historian and author of The Leaders We Deserved (And A Few We Didn’t): Rethinking the Presidential Ratings Game (Basic Books, 2008). And, like Second Lady, the title simply came into common use, although not immediately after Taylor’s coinage of the term.

“I’m not sure when using First Lady became commonplace. No one referred to Mary Todd Lincoln as the First Lady,” says Felzenberg, who thinks it was around the time of Jacqueline Kennedy that First Lady was used on a regular basis.

Felzenberg says the term “Second Lady” became popular much later in history; he says it was applied to Lynne Cheney, wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney. “No one called Lady Bird (Johnson), Barbara (Bush), or Marilyn Quayle by the term, so it is fairly recent.”

Of course, Emhoff would be the first “Second Gentleman,” a term no one has heretofore used. “When Hillary Clinton was running for president in 2016, Bill Clinton joked that, because of his Scottish heritage, he would have preferred the title ‘First Laddie’,” Felzenberg says.


Me, myself, and I

DeAndre Hopkins, a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League, on November 15 made an amazing catch of a nearly 50-yard pass from teammate Kyler Murray for a game-winning touchdown. There were three defensive players surrounding Hopkins when he made the improbable end zone catch. At a post-game press conference, Hopkins described his feat this way: “It was just a better catch by I.”

Admit it, you grammar aficionados, just reading that quote made you cringe, didn’t it?

Sports analysts noted the grammatical error and gave Hopkins a pass (pun intended) for his fractured syntax. But in case you’re wondering, “I” is a subject pronoun, whereas “me” is an object pronoun. Use “I” when referring to the subject of a sentence or clause (“Kyler Murray and I make a good combination,” said DeAndre Hopkins.) and use “me” when you refer to the object of a sentence or clause (“Hey DeAndre, will you catch a game-winning pass from me?” said Kyler Murray.)

A holiday card primer Since we are knee-deep in the 2020 holiday season, I figure now is a good time to remind everyone how to make your last name plural. You know, so you don’t write “Happy Holidays from the Smith’s” on a greeting card.

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee.

2 thoughts on “The first “Second Gentleman”

  1. I cringed twice at the football comment — he didn’t need passive voice. “I made a better catch!” is fine. (It’s not boasting when it’s accurate.) As for the first Second Gentleman, as I understand it, most stylebooks call for first lady to be lower-cased, so second gentleman should be consistent. The fact that Emhoff will be the first of that title can be safe in a different sentence. (I think most readers will recognize that “first” anyway.)


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