From this morning’s top-of-the-hour national news about the passing of Roger Ailes, one thing has become awkwardly evident to me: The reporters at ABC Radio have no actual understanding of the proper usage of the word “former.”
All morning, they were identifying Ailes as the “former founder and chairman of Fox News,” which made me go pawing through my utility cabinet in search of duct tape – to prevent I.C.E. (imminent cranial explosion).
I’m guessing a few folks are scratching their respective heads and wondering, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, once you’ve been established as the founder of something, that particular designation can never be taken away – so Ailes could not possibly have been the news organization’s “former founder.”
How might this have been remedied? Well, for starters, ABC News could employ writers with a more-precise grasp of the English language. Beyond that, I’d recommend phrasing the sentence so the adjective “former” modified “chairman.” The correct way to identify Ailes (who resigned last year) would be “founder and former chairman of Fox News.” His designation as former chairman of Fox News had no bearing whatsoever on his status as its founder.
On a personal note, this obvious gaffe brought back memories from my nearly ten years as board secretary for the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. In emails, at monthly meetings and in what came to be known as the unofficial “Blue Minutes” from those meetings, we’d often refer to founder Brian Jud as CAPA’s “former founder” – with his full understanding that we were being intentionally goofy with that title.
However, to earnestly call someone the “former founder” of anything shows a basic lack of awareness. It’s akin to referring to someone as a “former graduate” of a college (and yes, I’ve heard that phrase so often my dentist is planning to fit me for a dental guard so I don’t grind my teeth into piles of enamel dust). Either you’re a graduate of an institution or you’re not – you can’t suddenly become no longer a graduate. There’s no need for an adjective. Still, if you must use one, consider “past.”
Think I’m making too much of this whole “former” issue? Go ahead and refer to a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps as a “former Marine.” I will assume no responsibility whatsoever for your resulting injuries.