It's rare that politics offers so much excitement for the grammatical folks among us, but this season is shaping up quite nicely, what with "Amercia"-gate, and now some great word nerd backlash about Obama's campaign slogan. As noted previously, the key to keeping a grammarian or copy editor-type happy is to give him or her something to point out as incorrect; it is not, contrary to popular belief, to never make a mistake. So when politicians make these "gaffes," it's almost like they're giving us a present! We only hope it will continue.
The latest is nothing so foul as a Mitt Romney campaign spelling error (or another, or another), nor anything so amusing as a good old Dan Quayle- or Bush-ism. Those were some heady days for grammar politics! But it's still pretty good fodder for those of us who enjoy a spirited conversation about which punctuation mark we adore the most. (Semi-colon! Or the em-dash? What about the lovely ampersand? Discuss.)
It is this: The Obama campaign promises to take the country "Forward." With a period. Like so:
While some are beefing about the slogan's alleged Marxist and Soviet ties, others are beefing about the punctuation. Punctuation is important, of course. Imagine what a different mark might do.
And so on. Some of the complainers, it appears, would indeed be happier with an alternate form of punctuation, perhaps the ellipses, even, because as Carol E. Lee writes in the Wall Street Journal, drawing our attention to this conundrum: "Even for some in the president's orbit, the added punctuation slams the brakes on a word supposed to convey momentum." Apparently Obama himself has laughed about the mark of finality in his momentum-based campaign command, and there was a lot of talk that preceded the decision to use it. Lee writes:
The president signed off on his own slogan, but evidently isn't sold. "Forward! Period. Full stop," he has joked to his campaign staff, according to an Obama adviser.
There has been much debate, both within political circles and outside of them, as to this wee mark, the one you might mistake for a spot of bright light in the photo above. No, it is a period! One of the problems about its existence that others have pointed out is that, actually, you know, "Forward" is not a sentence. Others disagree, arguing that it's a command, and therefore is a sentence, an imperative one. And then there are those who might argue that it's just a design element and everyone should relax a little bit. (Those people will be silenced with a blow to the head delivered by The Chicago Manual of Style.) But maybe this period is an improvement, in any case: Remember "Yes We Can"—a phrase that seemed to just miss a little something? And Romney's "Believe in America" slogan, well you could argue that that one really does need a period, or better, an exclamation point.
Whomever is right and whomever is wrong, you have to give the Obama campaign credit for one thing, at least: They did spell the word right. And on another positive note, all this discussion goes to prove, yet again, that grammar nerds are alive and well ... and quite vocal, too. Not that we thought any differently.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.