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I came across the following sentence:

Buy yourself a little happy.

I don't understand why the adjective form happy is used instead of happiness.

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    It is very difficult to know why a writer might depart from ordinary usage without seeing the context. Can you give us more information, which provides the context in which this was written? A link to the actual text would be best. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 14 '13 at 15:28
  • It's apparently a favorite phrase of a character on the TV show 'Will and Grace' which has caught on among fans of the show. Here's a script, it's down almost at the end. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 14 '13 at 17:02
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    I can has a happy too? – Nikana Reklawyks Feb 14 '13 at 17:46
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    @NikanaReklawyks it is a misspelling. Must be "I CAN HAZ". – bytebuster Feb 15 '13 at 11:43
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Adding to the example:

"KAREN: Yeah I know I joke a lot about hating Will and such but he's my lawyer and seeing how he affects my best friend I cant help but care too. You want to go last minute shopping? Buy yourself a little happy."

In the context of joking, the phrase "Buy yourself a little happy." is related to "You want to go last minute shopping?". As we all know you "can't buy happiness" (a very commonly used phrase), so she is making a joke by saying "Buy yourself a little happy."

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    Are you saying that the implied meaning here is "you can't buy happiness, so buy happy instead"? If so, I disagree. I think it is simply an amusing intentional misuse of adjective/noun forms. This is increasingly common these days, especially, it would seem, in internet culture. – Ken Bellows Feb 14 '13 at 18:43
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    Since you can only buy nouns, not adjectives, she is referring to something similar as a object to buy. Maybe its better to say its a play on words, rather than a joke. – user485 Feb 14 '13 at 19:52
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    I agree, but I don't think the joke (play on words, whatever) was meant to reference the phrase "you can't buy happiness". I think it was just playful nouning of an adjective. Nothing deeper or more thought out than that. (Just like my playful verbing of the noun "noun".) – Ken Bellows Feb 14 '13 at 20:56
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It's just deliberate use of an ungrammatical form to make it stand out as "clever/catchy/memorable".

The golden rule here is Learn the rules, then break them. But I would strongly advise learners not to aspire to copy such habits. Unless you've got quite high proficiency in English, you're likely to break the wrong rules in the wrong contexts. And even if you do get it "right", people might well assume that since you're not a native speaker, you probably only managed to do so by accident. So they won't necessarily think "He knows our language well enough to "play" with it just like we do!"

In the UK, for example, the insurance company Norwich Union has an advertising campaign with the strapline "Let us quote you happy". They know it's not "grammatical", and so do we. They probably also know that partly because it's "unusual", it will remind many people of the (more grammatical) hotels.com advertising campaign Wake up happy. That's "clever" - gaining publicity from another company's spend!

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  • So far this is the most convincing answer. However, I find native speakers are not confident enough about the reason why these phrases said this way. They are giving merely speculations. I wish there was more treatment to this issue. – learner Jul 15 '14 at 14:59
  • @learner: I have complete confidence in what I've said above. And I've given a highly-specific example of two closely-related examples where happy moves from "idiomatic" to "non-idiomatic" usage. I forget the linguistics term for this (it's a hypernym for "verbification, nounification," etc.), but I'm not convinced learners really need that level of detail here on ELL. The main thing is simply to point out that OP's example is deliberately quirky "playing with language" (which not even all native speakers can do very well, so it's not easily learned or "explained"). – FumbleFingers Jul 15 '14 at 15:50
  • The particular rule being stretched by Karen is that she's turning happy, an adjective, into a mass noun. – Ross Presser Nov 17 '14 at 18:42
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I'm thinking of a deformation here. This pattern might have started as "buy yourself a little happy house" for example; and as the object is subject to change, it might have used without object in those odd times where you can't find an object to buy. Again, it is just a suggestion. Forms in every language are uniquely odd.

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  • This could be something similar to "Purchase you happy.": get happy through buying things (although I do not recommend to do this!). – Stephen Feb 14 '13 at 21:11

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