Grammar Geeks Throw a Fit Over Obama’s ‘Forward.’ Slogan

If Obama was trying to arrest the attention of grammar nerds, then his slogan is spot on.

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President Barack Obama gives a speech in Florida. The podium displays his grammatically controversial campaign slogan, "Forward."

A good political slogan makes voters do a double take. If Obama was trying to arrest the attention of grammar nerds, then his slogan is spot on. The president’s slogan “Forward.” — with an emphasis on the period — is giving grammarians a conniption, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The slogan was first introduced in April but has received greater attention as more and more campaign ads air during the Olympics.

First, there is the matter of whether one can place a period after the word “forward” at all. Mignon Fogarty, the author of Grammar Girl’s 100 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time, pointed out to the Journal that the only single words that can compose a full sentence are verbs or interjections like “Run.” or “Ah.” But George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at the University of California Berkeley, says “Forward.” is an imperative sentence and therefore can have a period.

And there is the matter of context. Presumably, Obama is claiming that if he wins the election, he will move the country forward. But then there’s that period. Wait a tick, weren’t we pushing for forward momentum? Why put the brakes on it with this full stop?

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Obama advisers are divided over the period. Some say it adds emphasis, even if undercuts the meaning of the word “forward.” David Axelrod, strategist for both of Obama’s campaigns, told the Wall Street Journal that he likes the slogan: “There’s some finality to it.” He suggested that those who thought the punctuation was too final could add two more dots, creating an ellipsis, “and it’ll seem like it keeps on going.”

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But not everyone is sold. “It’s like ‘forward, now stop,’” Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the National Economic council and an adviser to the Obama campaign, said. “It could be worse. It could be ‘Forward’ comma.” According to an advisor, even Obama himself has joked to his campaign staff about the slogan even though he signed off on it. “Forward! Period. Full stop.”

To those of you who don’t keep Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style at your desk, didn’t take a red pen to those posters for Two Weeks Notice and think punctuation doesn’t matter, replace that period in “Forward.” with an exclamation mark, comma, em-dash, or ellipsis and see how it changes the meaning: “Forward!” “Forward,” “Forward—” “Forward…” These are important matters, people!

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This isn’t the first time a slogan has garnered grammar freaks’ attention. True grammar lovers argued that George H.W. Bush’s 1992 “Who do you trust?” catchphrase should have read, “Whom do you trust?” Even in 2008, some preferred “Yes, We Can” to the “Yes We Can” line Obama chose.

And this year, Obama is not the only candidate taking flak for his grammatical choices. Those scrutinizing Mitt Romney’s campaign pointed out three spelling errors in a single week in June, including a typo on Romney’s campaign app that read “A BETTER AMERCIA.” And though grammarians have no grammatical qualms with the Super PAC that supports Romney — “Restore Our Future” — some may wonder how exactly a president might “restore” the future when the future has yet to happen.

But as advisers and voters bicker over punctuation, this presidential campaign will move forward. Period.

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34 comments
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Jesse Mendoza
Jesse Mendoza

Obama has people branding him on his team, not grammar nerds. "Forward." looks better than just "Forward" or "Forward!" written infront of him. This is a graphic design decision.

doodlebug2222
doodlebug2222

I think of it as:  Forward (period) as in there is no option > BUT to go foward.

Look at it this way, it is a slogan - hence the tiny symbol in the O. Symbols like logos do not need to follow the rules of grammar.

allj
allj

I was too distracted by the second sentence, which should read, "If Obama *were* trying to arrest the attention of grammar nerds, then his slogan is spot on." :)

rosalina9877
rosalina9877

Forward. Off the dammnn cliff!!!! Stinkin commmiepigs!!!

Elliot Patton
Elliot Patton

This is a simple case of dropping the verb, where the verb in question could be "move", "go", "push", or a number of others.  Dropping the verb is more common in spoken English than written English, hence the grammatical niggling.  Consider this:  If  you ask your friend where the beer is, would you expect the grammatically precise "The beer is in the refrigerator", or would you be fine with the simpler "In the fridge"?   Hmmm...no verb there.  Our wonderful brains allow us to understand language contextually, not just directly.  

I would venture to say that almost every American can understand the powerful implication of "FORWARD."  It's a strong, evocative word, accompanied by a period that adds touches of determination and single-mindedness to the message.  Works beautifully.  

(Note:  I have an MA in applied linguistics)

darsa
darsa

Seriously???  I am a total grammar witch, and to me, if the options were Obama, with his freaking period after forward, and Romney with his... well, everything... I'd always, always pick Obama.  How ridiculous!

Beverly Sutton Lawrence
Beverly Sutton Lawrence

"Even in 2008, some preferred “Yes, We Can” to the “Yes We Can” line Obama chose."

Sorry, but preferring "Yes, We Can" would only meet my approval if the slogan was intended for use by preservers of produce.  "Yes, We Can" suggests the preserving of, oh, say green beans - 'Yes, we can ... we don't freeze ...'

As for the period used in the Obama slogan, "Forward." - well, it's not likely to make the difference, for many voters.

doodlebug2222
doodlebug2222

I like your example.

Yes, We Can > loses the flow becausae of the ,

Yes We Can > is even, and easier on the eye.

Danyz
Danyz

Maybe a good slogan for a company bent on downsizing - Yes, we can!

Briwref
Briwref

Good grief. If the world were falling about around their ears, these ridiculous people would fixate upon comma use and not the end of the world. Grow up!

Briwref
Briwref

Good grief. If the world were falling about around their ears, these ridiculous people would fixate upon comma use and not the end of the world. Grow up!

Danyz
Danyz

Hmm, "falling about" doesn't sound right. Falling down would have been the right choice here. Doesn't matter if the world ends tomorrow or not. Bad grammar is bad grammar!

Briwref
Briwref

Forgive my vehemence. I've seen quite a bit of rudeness towards the grammar impaired while online, and I must admit that I find it very off-putting. However, I'm less put off when the impaired is also a thoughtless moron.   

Briwref
Briwref

How clever you are! If you can't accept the fact that there are more important concerns in this life than whining about grammar, you are a lost cause. As the apocalypse envelops the world, you can take cold comfort in your thesaurus.   

Danyz
Danyz

Aw come on, can't ya take a little ribbin'? True, things do look grim worldwide, but I'll leave you with the words of Spinoza: "If I thought the world was going to end tomorrow, I'd plant a tree today."

jimharvey1
jimharvey1

Hey...it could be worse. If he wanted to get across to

most of America, he should have just used "4werd".

cerenzeytinoglu
cerenzeytinoglu

thats not the point at all.  the thing about slogans that they have to be catchy and make people remember it and use it in the daily lives.  whether it is correct or not TIME made a headline out of it and thats enough for Obama team who is desperately looking for something to create energy in the campaign.  no one is going to give up voting on Obama team because of a spelling mistake.  and if they do they should reconsider what they want to do about themselves.  the thing is the possible mistake does not tell anything about the political character of obama but the word does.  he is a man aiming to take the country forward.   the real question is which way forward?

mrblog47
mrblog47

Seriously, this is awful. Who cares? There is no rule to say that campaign slogans must be grammaticaly correct - never mind being this anal about it!

Jennifer Hallinan
Jennifer Hallinan

Artistic license.  Bottom line.  I teach grammar as well as literature and sloganeering is a form of the latter, as far as I am concerned.  I am a little prickly about "arrest" versus "wrest," however.

PJJP
PJJP

"Forward, Ho!" is one of the most prominent idioms of the Old West

Danyz
Danyz

I thought that was "Wagons, Ho!" as on the old TV show Wagon Train...

Ray
Ray

Romney's going to put out an ad with a bunch of offended english teachers talking about how Obama insulted verbs...

Neil Du Plessis
Neil Du Plessis

Really....?!?!?!  Are people actually making this big of a fuss over a damn period?  It's not like poetry that warrants analysis or interpretation.  If people/government paid half as much attention to more serious issues at hand, then maybe things would be going better!

doodlebug2222
doodlebug2222

Whoa.... whoa... whoa...

Sir, you cannot come in here and tell people how to use up their trolling time. If they want to nitpick little nothings.. then...

Oh, nevermind - you stand correct - carry on :)

Peter Palfrei
Peter Palfrei

Any slogan is a tittle, a main one, and tittles do not take periods unless they are followed by another sentence --regardless of its length--, which will finally make both sentences compose an introductory paragraph rather than a tittle.

k273
k273

This is not an issue at all.

      Where are those troops going?

      Forward.

My interpretation? It's some kind of a resolve on the speaker's part.

'Restore our future' is far more of a problem.

I am not a US citizen, just a fan of linguistics, so I am not behind any of those two.

I also agree with what two posts (Sarah N Huxley amp; Jardin J) before me said.

Peter Lewis
Peter Lewis

"Why put the breaks on it with this full stop?"

I can only assume that you wrote "breaks" instead of "brakes" on purpose, to bait the grammar nerds who are likely to read this article?

Jardin J
Jardin J

When I saw it, I took it to mean, "We are going forward. Period. Not back, not staying the same, not two steps forward two steps back. FORWARD."

I like it. But that was my personal interpretation.

Sarah Newman Hurley
Sarah Newman Hurley

Technically, "forward" can be used as a verb. Haven't you ever heard of forwarding an email? "I'll forward that to you." While I agree that the word is probably intended as an adverb, it's not entirely true to say that "Forward." is grammatically incorrect.

Also, an interjection is defined by wikipedia as "a word used to express an emotion or sentiment on the part of the speaker." It seems to me that the purpose of the 'slogan' is to express a sentiment or emotion - not the action of progress, but the feelings it inspires. Basically, I think it's easy to make an argument for the new slogan being grammatically correct.