Tuesday, November 15, 2011

grammar of think different

Jeff at cheap talk says
Here’s how Steve Jobs explains “Think Different” as quoted in Walter Isaacson’s biography (thanks to Mallesh Pai for the pointer.)
We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. ”Think differently” wouldn’t hit the same meaning for me.
I may have been taken in by the GDF but after thinking about this for a day or so I am convinced that I understand what he means, even if he didn’t explain it very well. Constructions like “think X” are used all the time where X is a noun and what the writer really means is “think about X” or “consider X” and especially “join the X movement.” (Think “Think Green”, a familiar slogan that is saying “be enviornmentally conscious.” ) “Eat Local” has a different interpretation than “Eat Locally” which would not make sense in its stead. For that matter, “Think Locally, Act Globally” suffers from excessive adherence to grammatical rules. What “Think Different” was supposed to convey is essentially “be a member of Team Different.” But I am sure that was lost on most people and has nothing to do with why it was a successful campaign.
Why is this so complicated?? "Think different" uses "different" as a noun (and maybe silently implies some punctuation that would clarify that). That's all. Like many people, I love grammar (I'm even particularly particular about adverbs!), but it's much more fun to play with (even abuse) its flexibility than to pounce on alleged mistakes and then triumphantly award yourself a gold star.


JohnRaymond said...

You would enjoy a syntax class - this kind of thing taken to the nth degree, abstractly, etc.
I kind of think that Steve Jobs was playing with two things with "Think different": 1) using 'different' as a noun, as you pointed out, and 2) implying 'differently', taking advantage of the aversion of Americans to overly-correct usage. So he was able to create a double entendre (which apparently is misspelled, or not in the spell-check dictionary of this application).

Vera said...

yeah I was thinking about enrolling in intro linguistics or sociology or spanish for fun next semester. but it's early in the morning so maybe I'll just read the book =p they use "language files" from O(hio)SU - is that a good one? happen to have an extra promotional copy I can steal...?