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Advertisers look for good “slogans,” pithy words and phrases that capture our attention and are easy for us to memorize and repeat. You probably know “You’re in good hands,” by Allstate and remember “Where’s the beef?” by Wendy’s, which was made popular in 1984. There were even crossword puzzles that gave potential answers to the question about beef. One was IATEIT.

A slogan is intended to make us purchase a particular product or be identified with a certain cause. As a linguist, I like to examine slogans and search for the sometimes “hidden” meanings, often finding things that the slogan was not meant to imply. One of my favorites (for dissection) is “Make America Great Again,” or simply the potential MAGA on your baseball hat.

The phrase (I’ll shorten it to MAGA) is an imperative sentence in which “you” (that is, “me”) are commanded to do something. For example, as a farm kid, my mother had me “make” butter by churning cream and milk. Of course, I didn’t “make” the butter, but in one sense the churn did. All I did was crank the handle of the churn until clumps of butter began to appear. My mother then took them and molded the homemade butter into slices or cakes. Who made the butter: me, mom, the churn or, initially, the cows? It didn’t matter who got the credit as long as there was butter for our bread.

It is the same with a slogan. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as it becomes a part of the hearer’s jargon. People who are sane probably don’t go around saying “MAGA,” but the concept is meant to be part of their linguistic arsenal.

We are to make America great, but does that include the Territories as well as the 50 states? Do we want Puerto Rico to be as great as California? Apparently not. What about Samoa and Guan or the Republic of Palau and the total of eleven other “territories”? Are they included in the slogan for “America”? Do we want them all to be “great”?

And how do we know if something is great? As an adjective (it modifies a noun) and according to an online dictionary, there are at least eleven meanings of “great.” Here are two of them: 1) “of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average”; 2) “of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average.”

MAGA wants America to be above the “average.” The average of what? Other countries or other times or other something else? America is supposed to be made “great,” not just “average.” Again, this is a beautiful slogan because it is so vague and yet, sounds so delightful. Like the children of Woebegone, all of us want to be above average.

To make America above the “average,” presumably means to have a higher average salary income than countries around the world. However, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and Norway have higher median incomes than our citizens. So MAGA has a long way to go to be above average in wages. Perhaps MAGA means to be “great” in education. We don’t do too well there either. I read that “at 4.96%, the United States spends a smaller percentage of its GDP on education than other developed nations, which average 5.59% of GDP in educational spending.” Not too great there either!

We do score “great” in churches, well above the average in other countries. Estimates claim there are roughly 380,000 religious’ communities in America and they keep growing. Is America therefore “great”?

This brings us to that all-important word “again.” Was America great to the extent that we want it to be that way “again"? If so, when was it great? You might say, “When the constitution was written,” and that would certainly qualify as a great time in America’s history. A nation was formed, but then it and the amendments have also provided political fodder, with rancor and endless debate.

The definitions of “make, great, again” and even “America” demonstrate the ingredients of a good slogan. Good slogans are always brief: to be remembered they can’t be more than a few words. When Nike says “Just do it,” it is a catchy phrase. Something apparently should be done, and we need to be convinced that it is done best using Nike products.

A slightly different kind of slogan is a “tagline” or a “hashtag.” Examples of taglines are “Dream in peace” by a mattress company and “Bake memories,” by a Food Box. You may remember when # was a simple pound sign. Today on social media channels, it is a way to engage your audience, so #NeverHillary suggests a political story and so, perhaps, does #makeamericagreatagain.

Some churches put slogans on their signs, such as “Closer to God,” “Connecting souls,” and “Feel the difference.” They are meant to attract people to the church, and some are humorous, such as “Hipster Jesus loved you before you were cool,” or “Acting perfect in church is like dressing up for an x-ray.”

Perhaps we really can MAGA simply by following Jesus “down the highway.” #SacredSimple would be a good place to start.

Karl Franklin

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