Tag Archives: Obama

When you walk through a storm, do you keep your chin or hold your head up high?

When you walk through a storm hold your head up high / And don’t be afraid of the dark / At the end of a storm is a golden sky / And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind / Walk on through the rain / Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on with a hope in your heart / And you’ll never walk alone

Before you walk on, go to iTunes and listen to track 17 of Joseph Calleja’s gorgeous new album, Be My Love: a Tribute to Mario Lanza (released a couple of days ago). Listen carefully to the words. http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/be-my-love-tribute-to-mario/id568147992


Did anything surprise you? In glorious voice, the Maltese tenor sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, arguably Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most famous song, which they wrote for their 1945 musical, Carousel. Julie, the heroine of the story, has bid a heartbreaking farewell to the father of her unborn child, after the no-good barker at the local fairground has fallen fatally on his knife during a botched hold-up. Julie’s cousin, Nettie Fowler, sings to her of hope and courage, urging her to forge on through her despair with hope in her heart. It’s one of the great moments of musical theater; if your heart has ever been broken, you’ll know what strength can be drawn from the powerful words and melody, and even the owner of the hardest heart won’t fail to melt a little when he hears this poignant song. As well as being adopted as the anthem of Liverpool, the English football club, thus turning it into a favorite of British sports fans, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has been widely covered by singers of all genres from the 40s onwards – the soprano Renee Fleming sang it at Obama’s inauguration in 2009 – and it holds a spot in the firmament of great and loved American songs.

But strangely, there’s a mystery surrounding its lyrics – in the first line concerning which part of your body you should hold (or keep) high. As Claramae Turner sang in the 1956 movie version of the musical, “hold your head up high”.  But on the original Broadway cast recording (which presumably reflected the stage lyrics), and in subsequent revivals on the Great White Way, the mezzo advises her grieving cousin to “keep her chin up high”. It’s not clear which version Oscar Hammerstein preferred or intended to be sung. And nowadays you will hear one version sung just as often as the other. (Football fans, led by the Liverpudlians, lift their heads rather than raise their chins.)

On the Rodgers and Hammerstein web site, Bruce Miller of the music department of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. votes musically in favor of the head rather than the chin: “”‘Keep your chin up high’ is, as most singers will affirm, more difficult to sing and project than ‘Hold your head up high.’ The vowels for ‘keep’ and ‘chin’ are more closed than those for ‘hold’ and ‘head’.””

He’s right: just spend a moment saying the phrase “hold your head up high” aloud, and notice how the shape of your mouth stays round and open and doesn’t move a great deal as you articulate the words. Now try doing the same thing with “keep your chin up high”: the oral acrobatics necessary to shift between the first three vowel sounds — closed “ee”, open “or”, closed “i” — while maintaining a steady breath and tone are challenging. Now imagine amping up the decibels and projecting over a pit orchestra to the back of a packed theater. It’s interesting that singers such as Calleja – and many like him and of his caliber – have chosen the more treacherous option.

Putting oral gymnastics aside, let’s look at the meaning and nuance of the phrases in question. I can understand why Hammerstein might have felt conflicted about them. First, just the anatomical parts themselves symbolize different things. Whereas our chins serve little purpose other than to act as head-guards, and we think of them in the mundane context of falls and scrapes and mouth spills, our heads are more ‘meaningful’, being at the center of our being and our sense of self: they house our minds, our senses, our thoughts, and our feelings. The head is undoubtedly more noble and poetic than the chin. And yet the expression “keep your chin up” is perhaps closer in meaning than the alternative to the sentiment that Rodgers & Hammerstein sought to convey in their song. “Hold your head high” (more often used without the “up”) has connotations of  pride and rising above defeat, error, conflict or humiliation.  There’s even a hint of wrong-doing in the head-holder, whereas those encouraged to have more confidence by “keeping their chins up” are perhaps more blameless and facing unlucky or fateful obstacles. And yet the notion of holding your head up high somehow carries more gravity and permanence than keeping your chin up, which seems more trite and fleeting by comparison. Furthermore, neither expression fits well in its true form (“keep your chin up” or “hold your head high”) in the meter and rhyme of the song: Hammerstein clearly had to add a “high” to the chin or an “up” to the head for the line to work musically. Might Hammerstein have battled between the conflicting pulls of gravity, meaning, meter and rhyme?

Mark Horowitz, Music Specialist at the Library of Congress, is quoted on the Rodgers & Hammerstein web site stating that: “Every version in the Rodgers & Hammerstein collections reads ‘Keep your chin up high’ with the exception of the Twentieth Century Fox score, which reads ‘Hold your head up high.'”” The most likely scenario is that Hammerstein started out with the chin, but changed it to the head as an imperfect but aesthetic improvement.

Below are the versions that the song’s various interpreters have chosen over the years.

Joseph Calleja (on Be My Love): chin

Renee Fleming (at Obama’s inauguration): head

Mahalia Jackson: chin

Barbra Streisand: head

Ray Charles: chin

Louis Armstrong: head (he actually sang “put your head up high”)

Frank Sinatra: chin

Righteous Brothers: head

Elvis Presley: head

Gerry & the Pacemakers: head


as Nettie Fowler:

Shirley Verrett (Broadway/Tony Awards, 2009): chin

Claramae Turner (1956 film): head

Christine Johnson (Broadway cast recording, 1945): chin

Period or no period? Obama made his choice. What’s yours?

As a huge fan of the ellipsis, I can’t understand why no-one suggested those three tantalizingly forward-thinking dots, instead of the “full stop”…  And surely if the slogan represents an imperative (despite forward not being a verb), an exclamation mark would have served a better purpose.

But periods aside, why didn’t Obama stick his neck out and choose forwards, instead of forward? According to the OED: “The present distinction in usage between forward and forwards is that the latter expresses a definite direction viewed in contrast with other directions. In some contexts either form may be used without perceptible difference of meaning; the following are examples in which only one of them can now be used: ‘The ratchet-wheel can move only forwards’; ‘the right side of the paper has the maker’s name reading forwards’; ‘if you move at all it must be forwards’; ‘my companion has gone forward’; ‘to bring a matter forward’; ‘from this time forward’. The usage of earlier periods, and of modern dialects, varies greatly from that of mod. standard English. In U.S. forward is now generally used, to the exclusion of forwards, which was stigmatized by Webster (1832) as ‘a corruption’.

Forwards unambiguously denotes direction, in a way that forward doesn’t. But who wants a whiff of corruption in their campaign slogan?

I’ve never noticed the period after the  The Wall Street Journal. on its masthead. How quaint.



Punctuation Nerds Stopped by Obama Slogan, ‘Forward.’

From Both Sides of the Aisle, a Question: Is Ending It With a Period Weird?

The. Obama. Campaign. Slogan. Is. Causing. Grammarians. Whiplash. Even for some in the president’s orbit, the final punctuation on ‘Forward.’ slams the brakes on a word supposed to convey momentum.

By Carol E. Lee

The. Obama. Campaign. Slogan. Is. Causing. Grammarians. Whiplash.

“Forward.” is the culprit. It was chosen to reflect the direction Mr. Obama promises to take the country if re-elected. It also is designed to implicitly convey the opposite: that likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney would set the nation in reverse.

Simple enough. Except the moment seven characters became eight, things got complicated. Period. Even for some in the president’s orbit, the added punctuation slams the brakes on a word supposed to convey momentum.

“It’s like ‘forward, now stop,’ ” said Austan Goolsbee, the former chairman of the National Economic Council who still advises the Obama campaign. He added, “It could be worse. It could be ‘Forward’ comma,” which would make it raise the question: “and now what?”

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.

On that, if on nothing else, Mr. Obama has bipartisan support.

“It’s sort of a buzz kill,” said Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.).

The period was a subject of a spirited debate as Mr. Obama’s senior advisers and outside consultants spent hours in a conference room at their Chicago campaign headquarters deliberating over the perfect slogan, according to an adviser who was in attendance.

Does a period add emphasis? Yes! Does it undermine the sense of the word? Maybe!

David Axelrod, the president’s longtime messaging guru, is a champion of the period. “There’s some finality to it,” Mr. Axelrod said. For those who think it stops “forward” in its tracks, he has a suggestion: “Tell them just to put two more dots on it, and it’ll seem like it keeps on going.”

The period debate hasn’t been confined to the upper echelons of the Obama campaign. Politicians, grammarians and designers who brand people and products have noticed it, too.

“There’s been some speculation that the period really gives the feeling of something ending rather than beginning,” said Catherine Pages, an art director in Washington, D.C.

In 1992, George H.W. Bush’s line, “Who do you trust?” generated chatter about the use of “who” versus “whom.” Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 slogan “I like Ike” is clearly a sentence, but didn’t include a period. George W. Bush’s “Yes, America Can” slogan included a comma; Mr. Obama’s “Yes We Can” chant four years later did not.

Meanwhile, the title of the super PAC supporting Mr. Romney, “Restore Our Future,” seems to bend the rules of space and time, if not grammar.

Those who brandish red pens for a living are divided on whether Mr. Obama’s campaign slogan passes muster.

“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.”

The only single words that properly end with a period are verbs, Ms. Fogarty added, or interjections such as “wow.”

George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at University of California Berkeley who is well-known in Democratic circles, has a different verdict. He says that the slogan respects the period’s proper use because “Forward.” is an imperative sentence.

“You can look at the period as adding a sense of finality, making a strong statement: Forward. Period. And no more,” Mr. Lakoff said. “Whether that’s effective is another question.”

Joining the Obama campaign is the alternative rock band fun., which added a period on forming in 2008. In a written statement, two of the group’s founders, Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost, described the punctuation as “our way of sedating the word fun. We love how quick and sharp ‘fun’ is, but in no way do we intend to give people the impression that we’re going to walk into rooms doing back flips.”

On its page-one nameplate and elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal maintains its period, a holdover from the 1800s. No one at the paper knows why the Journal kept it when other papers gradually dropped their traditional periods, a spokeswoman said.

In presidential campaigns, discussions over slogans often focus on pre-emptive damage control. “We’d sit around the conference rooms and have these discussions,” said Steve Hildebrand, a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign. “You wonder if they’re going to catch on; you wonder if people are going to make fun of them.”

Shortly after the 2012 line was unveiled in April, late-night talk show host Jay Leno said, “That’s a good message for Obama. He’s telling voters, whatever you do don’t look back at all those promises I made. Just look forward.”

Mr. Romney has called the “Forward.” slogan “absurd,” and has seized on it to argue Mr. Obama’s policies would take the country “forward over a cliff.”

Mr. Romney’s slogan, “Believe in America” (no period), has its share of critics as well. “I think that’s about as close to a standard slogan as you can possibly get,” said Fred Davis, a Republican media consultant.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a former public-relations manager, said he prefers the period over an exclamation point or nothing at all.

“Forward without a period leaves open the question: ‘In what direction?’ ” Mr. Israel said. “But that’s just the old, frustrated, former public-relations executive in me.”

It is possible the president isn’t the best judge of his own marketing. During his successful 2008 run, Mr. Obama told his campaign staff he wasn’t sold on the slogan “Change We Can Believe In,” according to a book written by close aide David Plouffe.

He also thought the campaign’s signature symbol—a red, white and blue rising sun—was “cheesy,” recalled longtime Obama adviser Robert Gibbs.

The period has mysteriously been dropped in several recent Obama campaign ads. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said there is no particular reason behind the omission. “Stay on your toes—anything could happen,” he said. “Do not be surprised if we introduce a semicolon.”

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com