How to Refer to Former and Future States

By Mark Nichol

A variety of prefixes and words that express former and future states of being are available to writers. Here’s a discussion of the possibilities.

In reference to people who are no longer in a particular position or profession, the most common wording, for example, is “former stockbroker John Smith” or “ex-stockbroker John Smith.” Other, more elaborate terms, in ascending order of ornateness, include onetime, erstwhile, and quondam.

One can also use once or “at one time,” but not as a simple description preceding the name, as in the examples above; one would have to write, depending on context, something like “John Smith, once a stockbroker himself” or “John Smith, who at one time was a stockbroker.”

Descriptions might also use then as an adjective, as in “then stockbroker John Smith” (note that the phrase consisting of then and a descriptive word is not hyphenated), which is distinct in meaning from phrases that include former or ex-: For example, “The book was written by former stockbroker John Smith” means that Smith wrote the book after he was no longer a stockbroker, whereas “The book was written by then stockbroker John Smith” means that Smith wrote the book while he was a stockbroker but is no longer working in that profession.

A more complex form is to use turned as a transitional term between a former state and a current one, as in “stockbroker turned mechanic John Smith.” (Note that hyphens are not used to connect the terms; that common error likely arises from confusion with phrases that include the term cum — from the Latin word for “and” and therefore not synonymous with turned — which appears in such constructions as “teacher-cum-coach John Smith.”)

Unfortunately, this variety of solutions is not available for expressing future states. Future is the only simple description, as in “future stockbroker John Smith.” Otherwise, one might write, “John Smith, who will become a stockbroker” or, in retrospect, “John Smith, who went on to become a stockbroker.” (However, politicians who will take office on a specified date can be referred to as, for example, “President-elect John Smith.”)

The effect on a job title of the insertion of former, ex-, or any other similar term (or any adjective, for that matter) before the title varies according to style. The Chicago Manual of Style and similar handbooks generally treat the job title as if has joined the adjective as part of an epithet, a generic description rather than a capitalized title. Therefore, someone who no longer holds a particular office would be described, for example, as “former president Bill Clinton,” as opposed to the designation “President Bill Clinton” for a sitting president. The Associated Press Stylebook, by contrast, does not make this distinction: The form most newspapers follow is “former President Bill Clinton.”

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4 Responses to “How to Refer to Former and Future States”

  • Matt Gaffney

    The claim that the “. . . term cum — from the Latin word for “and” . . .” is incorrect.

    In Latin, “cum” is a preposition and is most often and most accurately translated as “with.” In the context of this article, its best idiomatic translation is “along with being,” i.e., English poached one of the idiomatic meanings of a Latin word to do double duty.

    It also seems to me that the term “prospective” could have been included in this article, although I imagine some might argue that the term connotes more possibility than probability.

  • Dale A. Wood

    An article by the Associated Press today made serious mistakes about the names of ancient countries, cities, people, and the chemical elements:

    “They begin with number 57 Lanthanum and end with 71 Lutetium”.
    [In the same article, also mistakenly capitalized were these: indium, dysprosium, and neodymium.]
    The names of ALL of the chemical elements are common nouns, and they are NOT capitalized. It does not matter what the source of the name of the element is, and this rule applies to all of these as well:
    americium, berkelium, californium, cerium, curium, europium, einsteinium, fermium, gadolininium, gallium, germanium, hafnium, holmium, mendelevium, neptunium, palladium, plutonium, polonium, samarium, scandium, selenium, tellurium, thorum, thulium, uranium, where several rare-earth elements are included (lanthanides and actinides).
    Elements have been named for continents, countries, cities, towns (yttrium), planets, people, asteroids, mythological characters (such as Tantalus, Thor, the Titans, Niobe), the earth (tellurium), and the moon (selenium). The name hafnium comes from an ancient name for Copenhagen , the name holmium comes form an anctient name for Stockholm, the name thulium comes from an ancient, mythlogical part of Scandinavia, and gallium comes from the ancient Roman name for France.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Matt Gaffney is absolutely correct. The word “cum” doesn’t have anything to do with the English word “and”. “Cum” is the Latin vesion of the preposition “with”. How could anyone make the mistake of interpreting it as “and”? That’s sheer carelessness.

    In the idiomatic way of writing prepositional phrases in Latin, the phrase “maxime cum celerissime” means “with the greatest possible speed”. I just studied Latin in the 9th grade in junior high school, and I remember that much. It looks like someone needs to learn a little Latin “maxime cum celerissime” instead of making incorrect guesses and wild assumptions.

    Besides basic Latin, I was also taught a few idiomatic phrases in Latin. “In media monte” means “halfway up the mountain” and NOT “in the middle of the mountain”.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The title about former and future states is misleading because we have had the former STATES of the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Napoleon’s Empire, Gran Columbia, the British Empire, the U.S.S.R., East Germany, and so forth.

    From the the point-of-view of 1770 and many other years, the United States was a future state, and so were Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Gran Colombia, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, the Republic of Brazil, and so forth.

    The Bundesrepublik Deuschland has fallen apart twice (once into Nazi Germany) but come back into existance twice, so there have been a good number of years in with the Federal Republic of Germany has been the ONCE AND FUTURE STATE.
    Doesn’t that remind you of a famous novel with a similar title?
    D.A.W.

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