Eat Your Grammar

Sesame Street may want to take note: The letters L and Y don’t seem to be doing as much sponsorship as they used to. The grammar gurus at the Language Log have already tackled such neologisms as “drive safe” and “think different.” Recently, as pointed out on Serious Eats, they turned their red pens to “buy local,” and its attendant imperative, “eat local.” A Language Log reader wrote in about a “slight fracas” at the local planning and zoning commission over signs reading “Shop Local.”

The board almost denied permits to put up the signs, with one member of the board saying they were ‘horrific grammar’ and should instead say ‘shop locally.’ One board member (John Katz) was quoted in the local paper as saying ‘Just as art is amorphous, so is the concept of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public. I believe exposing people to the horrific grammar of these signs is in direct opposition to protecting the public’s welfare.’

Mark Liberman at the Language Log notes that “[m]any of the 1,130,000 Google hits for {‘buy local’} seem to come from the movement to buy locally-produced food.” In this sense, the construct makes sense, says Liberman, because you could make a distinction between the phrase “buy locally,” which “commits me only to carrying out the transaction of purchasing in the local area, without any implication about where the stuff I buy comes from. In contrast, ‘buy local’ is naturally interpreted to mean ‘buy local stuff.’”

It seems to me that local is being used in this slogan as the object of buy, not as a non-standard adverb modifying it. I very much doubt that the slogan’s proponents would countenance a form like ‘buy food local’ as opposed to ‘buy food locally’ (though in either case, that’s not what they mean). The same thing seems to be true of slogans like ‘buy American,’ which is about what to buy, not how (or where) to buy it.

Now, if someone could just decide whether it’s supposed to be locavore or localvore.

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