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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