He didn’t get to be ‘former’

A colleague drew my attention to this sentence from a recent story:

Unlike former President John F. Kennedy, Edwards did not inherit his wealth.

President Kennedy never had the chance to be the “former” president, of course, because he was killed while he was still president. In this case, it would have been better to drop “former” or to say “the late.”

Also, if we were referring to something that President Kennedy did while he was in office, we would not say, “The late president signed the bill into law.” He wasn’t “the late” then.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.