Did Apple kill the adverb?

Did Apple kill the adverb?

Summary: After a long holiday weekend spent watching various reality television shows, it's clear that the adverbial form in American English is in Zombieland. Gone. Missing in action. And it's likely that Apple's famous The Crazy Ones campaign helped put the nail in the coffin.


I was in the audience for the public unveiling of the Think Different advertising campaign during Steve Jobs' keynote address at the October Seybold Seminars San Francisco 1997. This annual conference and expo (held in the fall in San Francisco and back in Boston each winter) was the premiere  event for the digital publishing industry (in those days focused on print publishing as well as the then nascent Internet side).  

Jobs introduced The Crazy Ones:

Here’s to the crazy ones.

The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. ...

This video spot was followed by a print campaign featuring famous personalities in black and white images. There's a terrific piece at Forbes about the creation of the campaign by Rob Siltanen, who was at the time creative director and managing partner at TBWA/Chiat/Day working on the Apple pitch.

But while sitting in the keynote, my first reaction to the spot was like everyone else in the audience — or perhaps I should say, everyone there who was a longtime Mac user. The Macintosh had been the foundation of the electronic publishing industry, but in those days, the platform was under attack. Software partners of Apple with cross-platform titles were improving Windows versions before Mac versions, and horrors, some had even switched over to the PC. So, this Apple ad spoke to Mac users telling them that their platform was superior (and it was), just unappreciated. The world should have round pegs and square pegs, and the Mac was the round, cool peg.

However, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that my second reaction after the slogan and the then multicolored Apple logo came up on the screen was: shouldn't there be an "ly" after the word "different?" Even the poem says at the end of the first stanza, "The ones who see things differently." I mean, the writers knew the difference. Adverbs get the "ly" ending.

Many grammarians have analyzed the text. They often dissect the linguistic problems and then get around to the Apple example. Back in 1999, author-maven Heather at Random House's The Maven's Word of the Day said that "different in your sentence is acting as an adverb, and "I think different" should be "I think differently," according to prescriptive grammar." ...

I would be remiss if I did not mention Apple Computer's latest slogan "Think Different." The ads feature unconventional thinkers who accomplished great things (Edison, Einstein, Gandhi). Apple's unconventional grammar has raised the eyebrows of linguists and consumers alike, and the ads have attracted some purely linguistic attention. In defense of the slogan, the company makes a good argument for "thinking vernacular" in advertising.

Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, wrote a post on Grammar Girl about adverbial forms and deconstructed the grammar of the Think Different Campaign.

Apple’s ad also says, “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” But can a commercial change how the public perceives traditional grammar? It appears logical to assume that Apple knowingly used a statement that listeners might construe as ungrammatical but that the company didn’t mind, because it is rebelling against the status quo. Further evidence in favor of this view is that although the slogan is “Think different,” Apple’s commercial does use the line “The ones who see things differently.” If Apple believed that “think different” and “think differently” were interchangeable, the ad might have stated, “The ones who see things different.” This phrasing might have been too different, so in that case Apple stuck with traditional grammar.

Okay, this linguistic issue has been brewing for some 100 years. But in 1997, in Apple's The Crazy Ones ad, it all came to a head. And the adverb lost.

On the other hand, the Apple ad won. According to Siltanen in Forbes, the campaign gave users and the industry pause. A year later, Apple released the iMac G3s, which showed the company's new direction in design and performance.

A writer for the Los Angeles Times ripped on the campaign, saying something along the lines of, “It’s perfect that Apple is doing a campaign with a bunch of dead guys because the brand will be dead soon, too.” But the great thing was—good or bad—people were talking about a brand that had fallen off their radar. And they were talking a lot. Apple clearly had a pulse, and while they weren’t strong as a lion, they certainly gave the impression they were.

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I have written a number of pieces recalling the summer of 1997, when Steve Jobs worked on the Think Different campaign and pitched Mac developers on its OS transition to a Unix core. In looking at at the MacWEEK coverage of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference once again, I found another great quote from Steve Jobs about thinking differently. At a "fireside chat with developers, Jobs was asked about about development opportunities for the Unix Rhapsody, and Jobs told them that this change could shake the market. Microsoft hadn't committed to porting Office and neither had Adobe to Photoshop. It was a potential huge opportunity for smaller developers (and one that did expand the market for Mac software and the number of developers with products in the market).

But his vision was that the hardware platform, the OS and the work of ISVs should be superior.

"I don't want Apple to be perceived as different; I think it's important that Apple is perceived as better," Jobs said.

That sounds like what he meant in the ads.

Topics: Apple, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software Development

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  • New slogan

    I have a new slogan for Apple: "Think outside the box, because the inside is proprietary."
    Saldar Hesul
    • Another slogan here:

      "Sue Different"
      • Another one:

        Don't even think about the box. We have a patent on box thinking.
        • The Box

          Don't even think about the Box. We have a patent on the Box. No one can sell a box. Actually we have a patent on beveled corners. You can't sell anything with beveled corners. I wonder....what are they going to start packaging cereal in now?!
      • ZZZzzz....

    • Such as?

      What, exactly, are you claiming is proprietary?
      • Balloons

        Not that there isn't a bit of proprietary tech inside the box,just checking to see if you know what you are talking about or if you are just blowing air out your ass (which apparently you don't and you are).
        • My response

          Why should I have to respond to every (or any comment)? This is the Internet, not a board meeting.

          Oh wait, I guess I got those two switched around in my mind, so, yes, of course I'm happy to respond now that I've seen your insightful question.

          So, what is it, exactly, that's so proprietary about the box?

          As it turns out, we've now developed the Sense-of-humor-failure Firmware Interface (or SFI), which gives us all kinds of new methods to prohibit loading humor at boot-time.

          You heard it here first, more details soon...
          Saldar Hesul
          • Why you need to respond

            To prove that you aren't full of crap.
            Your response makes it clear that you are.
  • "Think Different" makes sense in the right context.

    I was bothered by that slogan at first, since it does appear to be a grammatical error.
    I believe what they were trying to say was along the lines of "Think Big"
    It might break some rules of grammar, but they are not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.
    beau parisi
    • Well said.

      Only little people mock genius.
      • Good point.

        Nobody mocking genius around here I see.
    • Precisely!

      To think in terms of that which is *different* is not the same thing as to think in a *different* way.

      One can only hope that the misguided grammarian of this piece will come to think differently and see both the error in his critique and the different meaning of "different" when thought of differently.
      • Its simple.

        "Think differently" connotes something different than "think different".

        While they could mean exactly the same thing for many, granted, most people I ran this by agree, "think different" comes across stronger than "think differently".

        Think differently seems to imply one should think in a somewhat different way. Think different implies to have a more complete transformation in ones thinking, so you are not just thinking differently in some ways, your thinking generally is different.

        Also saying "think different" implies that when some thought, issue or idea is run past you, you should reconsider the thought, issue or idea automatically by thinking of something "different" in some way. For example, someone says Apple, if you "think different" you might say orange. Or if your real smart Windows.
        • Not quite.

          "Think Different" has the meaning 'to think of that which IS different', in the same way that "Think Big" has the meaning 'to think of that which IS big'. On the other hand, "Think Differently" has the meaning 'to think IN a dissimilar way'.
          • My conclusion too

            I majored in English, so I was initially troubled by what looked like a grammatical error. Eventually, I came to this same conclusion: There is the same and there is different. The slogan is not commanding us to change our thinking (think differently); it is telling us to see something different (think 'different') when it comes to Apple computers.
          • Another perspective:

            This is could be a case of missing quotes. Think "different". The quotes are implied.
        • Not quite.

          "Think Different" has the meaning 'to think of that which IS different', in the same way that "Think Big" has the meaning 'to think of that which IS big'. On the other hand, "Think Differently" has the meaning 'to think IN a dissimilar way'.
        • If your real smart than thinking different leads to Windows, eh Cayble?!

          Your probably right at that. The real smart persons choose Windows. But then again, those that are left are "the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the trouble makers who are not fond of rules and have no respect for the status quo. Those that choose Apple, by your logic, change things. They move the human race forward.

          Thank you, Cayble. I couldn't agree more.
          • Interesting false dichotomy there

            If you're really smart, you don't let advertising and cute slogans create a false dichotomy in your head which somehow separates "smart" from "crazy misfit rebels". Even if the guy in the Apple ad has a cool moustache and goatee, or the guy in the Microsoft ad is wearing scuba diving gear.

            If you're really smart, you select the thing you think will be most useful to you based on the criteria YOU consider important for YOUR needs.

            BTW it's "if you're really smart", not "if your real smart", unless you were purposely making two grammatical errors in a subtle reference to the subject of this article. I don't think so though...