The New York Times is covering a sex scandal involving someone named “Monica S. Lewinsky.” On today’s front page it was plain old “Alan Greenspan” (also “Mark McGwire” and “Sammy Sosa”), but Monica still got that strangely formal middle initial. Why?
Even the NYT is not consistent in this conceit. In the last year it called her “Monica S. Lewinsky” 838 times and “Monica Lewinsky” 420 times. In fact, even as today’s front page was reporting on President Clinton’s “relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky,” today’s editorial page was deploring his “relationship with Monica Lewinsky.” Usually–but not always–the NYT’s news pages resist the temptation to call her “former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.” (The Washington Post’s and Los Angeles Times’s front pages also call her Monica S.)
According to the NYT’s usage czar, Allan M. Siegal, the rule is to include the middle initial unless 1) the person doesn’t have one; 2) doesn’t commonly use one; 3) he or she complains to the NYT, or 4) including one would be “too stuffy.” Apparently editorials may adopt the vernacular, while news stories should hew to the more formal mode.
Siegel claims the legendary NYT reference to musician Meat Loaf as “Mr. Loaf” was a joke.
Oh yes. The S stands for Samille. No kidding.