Magazine | October 14, 2013, Issue


A Period Problem

As a faithful reader, I was surprised to see an erroneous reference to “Harry S. Truman” in “Why Like Ike” (Kevin D. Williamson, September 2). The “S” in his name is not an abbreviation, but a tribute to both his grandfathers. His correct name is “Harry S Truman.” I expect such errors from others but not National Review. The bar is very high for you indeed.

Timothy C. Siegel

Knoxville, Tenn.

Kevin D. Williamson replies: President Truman said that there was no need to put a period after the “S,” since it was not an initial and did not denote anything. In the 1960s, he was asked how he preferred it, and he said that it usually was written with a period, and that was fine by him. The Associated Press stylebook has called for a period since that time. I myself am a dissenter from AP style on this issue—Truman’s preferences be damned, the “S” doesn’t stand for anything—but was in this matter overruled by National Review convention. Given that the editors spare me at least three embarrassing errors a fortnight, I am happy to submit to their preferences in this matter, even though my own instincts go in the other direction. You might try launching a petition effort to have the style changed, but I would not invest too much hope in it: Custom and usage are not lightly subordinated to mere democratic preference.

The Editors reply: Doesn’t the “S” stand for two names, not none? Most initials abbreviate the names of the people whose initials they are, and Truman’s did not, but why should that make any difference for the period?

The Service You Haven’t

Excellent article from Mr. Talent (“The Army You Haven’t,” September 16). His analysis is thorough and illuminates the folly of our defunding defense with minimal fiscal gain and maximal defense degradation. But I have to take issue with his assertion in the first paragraph that there are “three services.” What are these three services? There are three defense departments, but I don’t know which are the three services. The last I counted there are four: (in seniority order) United States Army, United States Marine Corps, United States Navy, and United States Air Force (the United States Coast Guard is considered a military service only in times of combat).

Ras Smith

United States Marine Corps (Retired)

Las Cruces, N.M.

Jim Talent replies: You are correct. There are three departments, with three service secretaries. But there are four services, and that is how I should have put it. My thanks for correcting the error; it gives me the opportunity to acknowledge it and send my regrets (and thanks) to you and all those who have served their country.

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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