The slogan

Cheat legal!

used by the Australian company SKINS has bugged me every since I saw their advertisement on TV. Only recently, I realized that there is a chance that it may actually be grammatically correct. Namely, it might be comparable to expressions such as "forget healthy" or "ignore stupid".

Is legal indeed an object rather than an adjective in the above phrase?

  • 1
    Think different. – SrJoven Aug 13 '14 at 18:30
  • @SrJoven, I suppose there must have been quite some discussion when Apple came up with that one. – painfulenglish Aug 13 '14 at 18:35
  • pain - there was no discussion at all! apple didn't think it up, just their droll "trendy" ad agency – Fattie Aug 13 '14 at 18:51
  • According to their Values and History, it's supposed to play to the fact that SKINS give you a naturally unfair advantage. Sounds like a legal cheat. It doesn't really seem any worse then Nike's pronoun without an antecedent. What precisely am I to just do? – Elliott Frisch Aug 13 '14 at 19:41

If you're thinking about the slogan—especially in the context of the product name—then the advertising agency responsible for the slogan has done its job. Advertisers have long aimed for the sweet spot in their target audience's psyche where a form of usage slightly rankles but doesn't prompt immediate dismissive ridicule. Previous winners in this game include "Deathsticks taste good like a cigarette should," "Drive friendly" (a Texas Department of Highways slogan), and "Think different."

Clearly, as Edwin Ashworth notes in a comment above, some adjectives-as-adverbs are so well established in everyday English that most people wouldn't bat an eye when exposed to them: "think positive," "work smarter," "breathe deep."

At the same time, others sound so odd that they would inspire immediate widespread rejection without getting the chance to burrow into their target audience's cerebrums: "communicate intelligent," "exercise religious," "gratify immediate."

Neither of these categories of phrases serves the advertisers' purpose, which goes to show that the issue isn't one of grammatical legitimacy or illegitimacy, but one of insinuation and surreptitious resonance. In short, the goal is to create the 2-second literary equivalent of an earworm—to formulate just-a-bit-off phrases like "dream unlimited" and "respond Pavlovian" that serve as the advertising equivalent of the "little critchers" crawling toward Lieutenant Chekhov's inner ear.

  • Great answer. I came across another example, namely the slogan "For ecological thinking people", which seems to be a rather obvious mistake and does not stick at all (in fact, I had to look it up before posting this). – painfulenglish Aug 20 '14 at 5:45

Promoting an adjective to a noun is well-precedented ("Lonely are the brave", "The fast and the furious", "we happy few"), but demoting an adjective to an adverb is just ign'ant.

(I am assuming that "cheat legal" is supposed to mean "cheat legally", not "cheat the legal [system/people/organizations]".)

  • "Cheat legally" is exactly what I would expect. Not sure if the fact that "cheat legally" may be regarded as an oxymoron motivated the use of "cheat legal" instead. – painfulenglish Aug 13 '14 at 17:49
  • Right on. On balance I'd sau it deliberately sounds 'like bad English'. Does that make sense? In Stralia in particular, there is one line of marketing bullshit where you particularly pretend to be vulgar, "non-Upper-Class" etc. So, for me it's like that. – Fattie Aug 13 '14 at 18:50
  • Flat adverbs were once quite common, as this Wordwizard thread says. ( eg ... commanding him incontinent to avoid out of his realm and to make no war – Lord Berners). There is, however, a modern move to press adjectives into service as punchier adverbs. The unattributed saying 'Work smarter, not harder'was popularised by Alan Lakein in his 1962 book 'How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life'. 'Think big', 'Think different', 'think positive', & the old 'Take it nice and easy' are similar. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 13 '14 at 22:10
  • @EdwinAshworth -- yeah, I don't like "punchy". In some of those examples, it can be argued (more or less convincingly), the adjective describes some elided noun: "Think tour big [plans]" (since "thinking big-ly" doesn't make any sense). "Work smarter", wrong though it may be, is probably preferable to "Work in a smarter fashion" (what else would you say, "Work more smarterly"?) "Think different" was the worst Apple idea until Apple Maps for iOS. – Malvolio Aug 13 '14 at 23:23

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