The advertising world is full of grammatical errors.
Apple’s “Think different” should be “Think differently.” The California Milk Processor Board has “Got milk?” instead of “Do you have any milk?” And McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ it” uses a stative verb in a progressive tense.
Las Vegas’ slogan is a contender to join that list, according to some grammar experts. Laura Micciche, an English professor at the University of Cincinnati, said grammarians usually advocate to place “only” as close as possible to the word or phrase it’s modifying.
That would make Las Vegas’ new slogan “What happens here, happens only here” instead of “What happens here, only happens here.”
Even so, English professors and grammar experts alike have given the new slogan their stamp of approval.
“The usage of ‘only’ in everyday life is guided more by rhythm and context than by hard-and-fast rules,” Micciche said. “Moving ‘only’ makes for a clunky title that sounds too formal and stodgy.”
It’s all up to interpretation
The new slogan from R&R Partners was launched during the 2020 Grammy Awards with an advertisement that featured stars like Aerosmith, Christina Aguilera and Shania Twain.
University of Oklahoma professor Thomas Patten said while “only” appears to modify “happens” in the line, it mimics spoken American English, “the language of American advertising.”
“It sounds better when you say it,” said Patten, who teaches advertising copywriting. “The emphasis is in the right place even if the modifier isn’t.”
Erica Meltzer, the author of the student grammar guide “How to Write for Class,” agreed.
“There’s the technically correct way, and then there’s the way everybody expects to hear,” she said. It “sounds more natural. … People will understand what it’s intended to mean.”
Troy Leyenaar, one of R&R’s creative directors who worked on the campaign, said he believes grammar is more of a guide than a strict set of laws — especially in advertising.
“Writing in advertising is about feelings and sounds, it’s not math,” Leyenaar said. “You’ll also find it common in advertising to start a sentence with the conjunction ‘And.’ It’s advertising after all.”
He also pointed out that the English language does allow writers to put adverbs — such as “only” — before verbs, such as “happens.”
Ann Ellsworth, an English professor at Montana State University, agreed, and said the new slogan doesn’t break any grammatical rules.
Adverbs “can float in the sentence,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s about communication.”