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Q&A with Dr. Barbara Hoekje: Obama's "Forward." Campaign Slogan

November 1, 2012

Barbara Hoekje

Campaign slogans can be as much a part of an election as the candidates themselves are. DrexelNow spoke with Dr. Barbara Hoekje, (director of the English Language Center and associate professor in the College of Arts and Science’s Department of Culture and Communication) about President Obama’s 2012 campaign slogan, “Forward.” We discuss whether the use of a period is grammatically correct, and whether its very appearance says more about the President than the slogan itself.

Do you agree with the use of a period in the President’s campaign slogan?

I think it’s not needed. In fact, I think it’s distracting and I think he made a mistake in even including punctuation. When you think about what makes a popular president, it’s often that idea of the common touch—trying to pass yourself off as the common man. So in a way, using—or overusing—punctuation is a mistake just because it signals that you’re the kind of person who thinks about punctuation. I’m all for education and language and I love the fact that our president is super-educated, but education is not necessarily the reason people elect our presidents, unfortunately. The mere fact they [used a period in the slogan] is kind of the kiss of a death for a politician trying to look like the common man.

If grammatically unnecessary, do you think the period emphasizes the weight of the word?

 [Punctuation] helps us understand and process a stretch of language… to help us understand if [a phrase is] “eats shoots and leaves,” or “eats, shoots, and leaves” to use that well-known example, and in a way, it mimics our intonation. If our intonation rises we know it’s a question, so the question mark is supposed to show us it’s a question. An exclamation point is supposed to show us the emotion behind a given statement. In this case, “Forward—period” shows the weight of the sentence. We’re going forward. It does force the underlying meaning of the sentence—we’re going forward, or let’s go forward, we need to go forward—period. It does have the weight of finality, but again, if you’re going to provide weight or finality, it’s with the wrong word. Forward, followed by a sense of finality, heaviness… it doesn’t really work for me.      

In terms of style, the exclamation point has become almost campy, while the period seems to be the punctuation of choice. Do you think this is true?

I agree; the exclamation point has become kind of corny, hokey. So if the President wanted to use punctuation, what choice did he really have? You’re not going to use “Forward—comma” though that’d be kind of interesting, and “Forward… [dot dot dot]” is kind of foreboding. So, I think the best bet would have been to not use punctuation at all.