It seems only fitting with Presidents’ Day just a few days away that we celebrate one of America’s great forward thinkers and Fourth President of the United States for using the word ‘caption’ much like we do today—but before it was cool. The term ‘caption’ came into common legal usage around the 1600’s to mean ‘header,’ and did not evolve into our modern understanding of it until the widespread use of photography in print in the 1900’s. James Madison, being something of a ‘hipster president,’ decided he’d predate The New Yorker caption contest by over a century and use it outside of the law. In a note to Thomas Jefferson in 1789 he wrote, “You will see in the caption of the address that we have pruned the ordinary stile of the degrading appendages of Excellency.” Admittedly this is one of Madison’s more minor accomplishments, but an interesting tidbit nonetheless!
Happy Presidents’ Day!