Tuesday, July 31, 2012


The Wall Street Journal reports on a tizzy over the period at the end of the Obama campaign’s slogan “Forward.” Have you been thinking about this period? Me neither.

Here, as quoted in the article, is one popular grammarian’s take:

“It would be quite a stretch to say it’s grammatically correct,” said Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time. “You could say it’s short for ‘we’re moving forward.’ But really it’s not a sentence.”
But really it is a sentence. The Oxford English Dictionary covers this use of forward:

I hear the campaign slogan “Forward” not as a command but as an elliptical form of the hortatory subjunctive: “Let us go forward.”

A related post
Hortatory subjuctive FTW (Yes, it’s for reals.)

[Do you get the feeling that no one quoted in the WSJ article bothered to look up the word?]

comments: 8

Sean said...

Dear Professor,

As regards the hortatory subjunctive, are you not certain that you meant to say it is for realz? :)

P.S. I like the period. It reminds me of early 20th-century newspaper headlines. Even the title of the paper was punctuated (e.g. The New York Times.). Even if it's too much, to me it conveys the notion that someone was at least thinking about it.

Sean said...

It's funny, though, that using a period seems to render it as a kind of metaphorical oxymoron—as if you're saying:

"Forward [stop].", instead of:


The latter would satisfy the elliptical nature of the slogan, as you mentioned.

(I think the meaning of the punctuation and the meaning of the word in this case reside at different levels, which is why I say that it "seems" like an oxymoron.)

Michael Leddy said...

Sean, I’m glad it’s you. When I saw “Dear Professor,” I thought someone was going to be taking me to task.

I believe that reals is an acceptable variant. Urban Dictionary has both forms. I will admit that I’ve never seen either in print; “for reals” is something I use to amuse my children. I like the period in the campaign slogan too, now that I notice it.

Michael Leddy said...

I think the period adds a sense of statement: Just do it. Think different. Forward. Now I am getting uneasy thinking about politics and branding.

[I saw your second comment only after I replied, caught typos, and redid my reply.]

will said...

I didn't know the WSJ was considered relevant.

Elaine said...

Hortatory subjunctive, eh? You know, I was thinking that very thing! Not.

I would have used an exclamation mark, not a period. I overuse them, I admit, but in this case it might have sidestepped the critics.

Anonymous said...

It is a sign of inexact language when a sentence can be read as "an elliptical form of the hortatory subjunctive" by some and by others as an imperative. Language which can be this or that language intended to be read in more than one way. The question remains, "foward to what." As used in historical campaigns around the world, "forward" often led to something rather backward, at the minimum. And therein lies the point of political slogans, designed to make you think what you are already thinking, while doing the same to someone with other thoughts, and yet never pointing clearly to the final, unexpressed goal. Humpty so often is Dumpty.

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., I’m glad that you agree with me that the word forms a sentence. But as a mindless robot already marching to my president’s orders, I’m unable to think clearly enough to respond to your other observations.