The Time magazine’s (January 21) article titled ‘Osawatomie Reprised,’ reported that President Obama said his address will "be a bookend" to his Kansas speech last month, in video previewing Tuesday's State of the Union, with the quote:

“In a lot of ways, my address on Tuesday will be a bookend to what I said in Kansas last month about the central mission we have as a country, and my central focus as President. And that’s rebuilding an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility.”

From the context of the above statement, I guess the bookend here means “a pair” or “duplication, repetition”.

But as I checked Cambridge online dictionary to make it certain, it simply defines ‘bookend’ as a noun meaning ‘an object used, especially in pairs, to keep a row of books standing vertically.’

Oxford online dictionary, in addition to the similar definition with the above, provides the usage as a verb meaning “be positioned at the end or on either side of (something): the narrative is bookended by a pair of incisive essays.”

There was another definition of ‘bookend’ in www.businessdictionary.com;

“In marketing, set of two matching or related commercials; one played at the beginning of a commercial break period, the other at its end. This technique aims to aid the listener's or viewer's recall of the advertised item.”

None of the above definitions seems to suitably fit to the case of President Obama’s ‘bookend.’

Is it a popular usage of “bookend” in the sense of “another pair, duplication , repetition, reproduction, or the like” as used in President Obama’s statement?.

  • Google Books has maybe a dozen written instances of "a bookend" used in this sense (almost all from or about politicians). It's just a bit more final than metaphorical "end of a chapter". Closes the book, the last word, etc. Jan 22, 2012 at 1:02
  • Oishi-san: It does simply mean a repetition or an echo in this case. Usually it refers to a "matched set" of identical things. But you can also use the term metaphorically to signify a completion: the first "bookend" event represents a beginning, and the next represents an ending. Perhaps think of it like a 達磨 (daruma doll), where you paint in one eye on beginning of a journey or undertaking, and the other upon completion of it.
    – Robusto
    Jan 22, 2012 at 2:11
  • @Robusto-san. “Signify completion” makes sense, because I was a bit puzzled about President’s ‘bookend’ remark. If I said “I told you yesterday exactly what I want to say,” you wouldn’t like to hear it once again because I've already heard it. If it means a simple 'repetition' or 'other end of pair', ‘bookend’ remark becomes a ‘sport spoiler’ (the brand new word I learned from FumbleFingers on my previous question about goodwill-spoiler). If it means completion of his message, the audience would be interested in finding conclusion of Kansas speech in Tuesday's Union State. Jan 22, 2012 at 2:54
  • 1
    Cont’d: Analogous to your Daruma metaphor. President Obama can achieve 臥竜点晴 (perfect the picture of dragon by painting its eyes which is the most difficult part of the painting) by adding eyes (conclusion) to dragon (Kansas speech). Jan 22, 2012 at 3:20
  • Oishi-san: Ha, good one! パーフェクト!
    – Robusto
    Jan 22, 2012 at 3:44

2 Answers 2


In literature and rhetoric, bookends are two similar or identical passages at the beginning and end of a work (like actual bookends). Context within the work gives an extra dimension to the passage when it's repeated. For example, The Epic of Gilgamesh is bookended by descriptions of the walls of Uruk, which Gilgamesh built.

Obama could have made bookends if he had made a landmark speech on employment, then launched a massive jobs program, and finally made a very similar speech on the program's success.

But here Obama is clearly stretching the meaning; you're right in guessing that it's just a repetition.


Your intuition is correct. And your quoted Oxford definition

be positioned at the end or on either side of (something):
the narrative is bookended by a pair of incisive essays

lends itself to the interpretation of bookend in the context of this future speech as one that will buttress, reiterate, or strengthen the position he outlined in his previous speech.

  • I heard somebody today refer to two people as "bookends." What does this mean? The hint was that the two people were alike in many respects (e.g., their interests, their viewpoints, etc.). Oct 14, 2014 at 1:59
  • Is this an accurate usage? Oct 14, 2014 at 2:00

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