Category Archives: Now trending

Observing and all too often criticizing language trends

Calling All Creatives

Words slide from one part of speech to another all the time. How else could I meet some Yankees (noun) or watch Yankees baseball (adjective)? Nor is it rare for words to pick up new and fanciful definitions, though I confess that the first time I see the unexpected, I tend to assume the writer is wrong. Alas, pride does indeed go before a fall, because often I am wrong and what I thought was an error turns out to be a creative expression or a specialized usage.

Are these sign-writers visionary, knowledgeable, or grammatically inept? I’ll let you decide.

Man shirt?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The usual expression is “men’s shirt” or, in an apostrophe-stricken way, “mens shirt.” “Men’s” with the apostrophe is a possessive noun. Without the apostrophe it’s a mistake.  “Man shirt” turns “man” into an adjective. The dictionary allows for “man” as a noun (the man at the counter), a verb (to man the barricades) or an interjection (Man! That was awesome!) True, I don’t flinch at “man cave” (not at the wording, anyway). Perhaps the sign-writer didn’t want the correct but trite “men’s shirt.” But how to change it? “Male shirt” endows the clothing itself with gender.  “Shirts belonging to men” is too long and often inaccurate, as lots of people who aren’t men like the button-down look. “Masculine shirt”? That seems to rely on outdated stereotypes. Maybe “man shirt” isn’t so bad after all.

Moving on:

In my ignorance I was ready to impose an “unauthorized part of speech” penalty — until I looked up “creative” in the dictionary, which enlightened me to the fact that “creative” can be a noun applied to people who, well, create for a living: writers, artists, composers, and so forth. Apparently I’ve been a “creative” for decades and never knew it.

Last one:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Availability” as a noun is pretty common, but usually in the abstract sense: “Her immediate availability makes her the ideal candidate for Fire Warden, because two million acres are aflame and another million at risk.” But every dictionary definition of “availability” begins with “the quality of” or “the state of,” not “the place where.” On the sign, “availabilities” is a stand-in for “property you can rent if you have enough money.” (A little research into real estate prices showed me that “availabilities” are more expensive than “space for rent.”) Before I leave this sign, I have to address the meaning of “RSF.” I found a site listing 53 meanings for this acronym. I scrolled past “Royal Scots Fusiliers,” “Resource Selection Function,” “Rivista di Studi Fenici” (Journal of Phoenician Studies) until I arrived at “Rental Square Feet,” which seemed more apt than Scots, ecologists, and Phoenicians.

This whole post, by the way, arose from a New York Times article that quoted the phrase “negative effectives” from a judge’s decision.  Given that an “effective” is a “soldier ready for battle” and the ruling was about the military, the phrase might have made sense. Sort of. Then I checked other papers, all of which referred to “negative effects.” Sometimes a “new usage” isn’t creative or specialized. It’s just a typo.

Moral of the story (and note to self): Check before you scoff.

Sspeling Erorrs

I don’t usually bother with spelling mistakes, but when they appear on expensively produced ads, it seems to me that someone should have proofread before printing. Or before handing the finished product over to the customer. Or, at the very least, before hanging the sign on a store window, truck, or sandwich board.

Whether to double a letter or not seems to attract (atract?) errors like iron filings to a magnet (fillings to a magnett?):

 

Does this shop offer feline treats (mice, catnip, permission to snooze on a sofa that’s usually off-limits)? Or does the store host gossip fests, where guests can be as catty as they please?

Maybe the shop that does “cattering” should lend one of its Ts to this food cart:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I leave aside the issue of eating lunch at 10 AM or 4 PM, given that New York is the city that never sleeps and meals roam around the clock dial like sleepwalkers in a kitchen. Nor will I focus on the random capital letters, though I can’t help wondering whether lunch Time is supposed to reflect the eternal nature and importance of Time or whether the expression refers to a magazine. Instead I’ll confine myself to the meaning of the first line. Is the food cart offering to have the employee in charge of placing rice on the plate accompany you while you eat? And is Free Can Soda a call to action? I do like that sm matches content to form. The abbreviation sm is indeed small.

I don’t want you to think that whether to double the letter T is the only problem out there. S comes with stress in these signs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Had I a marker and not an aversion to graffiti, I’d remove the extra S from “tresspassingin the second sign and add it to kind in the first. While wondering whether the second sign banned a hair-exchange app, I’d also delete the extra f from proffessional  or get rid of the word entirely. I mean, who else works in a tailor shop? Amateurs? Hobbyists? Not for those prices they don’t.

Now if only these stores would shell out a little cash for some proffessionnall prooffrreadding.

.9 Children

No, the title is not a typo. The US Census reports that the average American family has .9 children. When you remove childless families from the calculation, the average number jumps to 1.86. I know at least some math, so I’m not questioning the silliness of .9 or 1.86 kids. Statistics and real life don’t always mesh well, though I do wonder what a .9 kid would look like.

I am questioning absurd signs, such as this poster advertising acting classes:

 

 

 

 

 

“Classes for 0 – 18 years.” How, exactly, do you teach a zero-year-old? Have the mother give birth on stage? I thought I was in favor of arts education for all, but now I realize that I’m in favor of arts classes for most. I draw the line a teensy bit higher than zero years.

Another interpretation of this sign revolves around how long the classes run. If you’ve been in class for 18 years, I assume you have an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and every other performing arts trophy. I also hope that somewhere during those 18 years, you had a coffee break and a restroom excursion or two. The question arises: Who would sign up for a class that meets for O years? Probably someone who wants to say “I studied acting” but doesn’t want to go to class. In my teaching career, I met a fair number of kids in that category.

The next population statement is from a clothing store:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One wonders if this is a sociological statement. One also wonders why the adults are singular (“Man,” even though there are 2, and “Woman”). For the sake of parallelism, the English-teacher term for balance and uniformity in a list, shouldn’t it be “Kid”?

Same store, different aisle:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The parallelism problem is still present, but the numbers make more sense. If the average family has .9 children, the “-1” could work, unless you’re addressing the average number of children in families that actually have them (the most likely buyers of kids’ clothing), in which case the sign-writers should reference the 1.86 average and maybe go with “1+” or “I-ish.”

I’m not going to analyze the “2 Man, 1 Woman” issue presented in both signs. Seriously, I’m not even going to mention it. But I will show you this sign:

Aside from parallelism — you shop for gear for “kids” (plural) and “baby” (singular) — it’s a relief to know that the kids and baby are inside, not in the middle of Third Avenue’s perpetual traffic jam.

I’m off to look at photos of my two (a whole and completely logical number, I must point out) granddaughters. Have fun with your .9 (or 1.86 or however many) kids. Or just enjoy this autumn day.

Another Inconvenient Truth

There are lots of “inconvenient truths” out there these days, one of which is this: “Convenience” and “convenient” are like the dinosaurs ten days after the asteroid hit. They’re still around, but they’re wobbling, as you see in these signs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So much to love here: “The Inconvenient,” for one, plus the capitalization. Also, the sign doesn’t tell where “The Other Location” is. I guess it’s in the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford to shop here” category.

Round two:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m trying to decide whether “sorry for inconvenient” is better than “The Inconvenient.” Also, the dash over the letter i is a nice touch.. But this one is the best:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points in favor include the fact that it’s not “inconvenient store.” But this is a backlit, permanent, glass sign. Nobody thought to spellcheck “convenience”?

I’d write more, but it’s an inconvinience time.

Misteaks Were Made

NYU, not you too! I took a noncredit course there recently, but the quality of the content and discussion sadly did not match this letter sent from New York University’s administration. Take a look:

If I “continuously check” my schedule, I’m on the ALBERT website 24/7. Is that what you demand of me, NYU? I’m interested in learning, but I have to protect my eyeballs. Now if you’d asked me to check my schedule “continually,” I could log on from time to time to see what’s new.

If I didn’t find proper usage at a university, why was I expecting correct spelling in a sign? Usually I resign myself to four or five errors per walk, and I normally don’t bother posting misspelled words. But this one’s an exception:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seen in a paint store so high-end that its rear touches the sky, the sign attempts to match vocabulary level to price. Notice “formulation” instead of “formula,” “master craftsman” (just one guy does it all), and “curated collection.” I’ve already written about the trend toward “curation” instead of, say, “selection” in a post entitled “Curation Nation” at http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=1576, so I won’t bother snarking about that part of the sign. But if you’re paying top dollar for small batches in formulations by a master craftsman in a curated collection, shouldn’t somebody spell “intricately” right? Indeed, as I tried to type “intracately” just now, autocorrect kicked in. It’s actually hard to make a mistake with that word, but I guess if you’re on the “master” level, you can manage.

Next one is a sentence from a mystery novel:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m assuming the author meant “preyed.” As a writer myself, I know that errors endure no matter how many times I proofread. I also know that a few make it past the editor’s scrutiny. I’m posting this as a reminder to myself to be more careful. Which brings me to this headline in the NY Times:

 

 

I wanted to mock the Times for the circle of logic represented by “Failing to Succeed.” After all, what else could you fail at? But on the fourth or fifth reading (yes, I’m a little slow sometimes), I grasped the point. You can’t win outright, so you may as well compromise. This one is clever, not wrong. So in the spirit of compromise, I’ll continuously try to fail at success, pray on all wildlife (who could use a little help from heaven), and consider repainting the living room with a curated color.

Well, maybe not the curated paint. I have to have some standards, and I’m drawing the line at “intracate.”

Personal Attention

Are you a “people person”? That’s slang for an extrovert, someone who delights in the company of others. (Which brings up this question: If you like one-on-one interactions, does that make you a “person person”?)  The noun “person,” used this way, refers to someone who is extremely interested in whatever descriptive word is attached to it. In this sign, though, “phone person” probably doesn’t refer to someone whose views on the latest iPhone resemble the way the rest of us feel about air. Instead, it’s the easiest way to avoid gender-specific terms. Take a look:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Write “phone man” or “phone woman” and you’re implying the gender of the preferred job- applicant. Top marks to this signmaker for non-sexist language! Not so top marks for communication. What does a “phone person” do? Call or answer or both? People doing those tasks used to be called “operators” or “secretaries.” But back to “person”:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: On some devices the image appears small, so I’ll reproduce its message here:

Help wanted

Experienced

  • Deli Man
  • Delivery Person

According to this sign, anyone can deliver, but only men can work in the deli. Really? I doubt that’s the meaning, if only because the ratio of men to women zooming around with bags of dinner is approximately a zillion to one, judging from my experience dodging delivery bicyclists on the sidewalks of New York. I checked “deli man” in various dictionaries, to find out whether this was a traditional term, like “businessman.” Nope. I’m still scratching my head over the mixed usage — gender nonspecific “person” v. masculine “deli man.” I can imagine a few scenarios: (1) two people worked on the sign or (2) someone cut-and-pasted part of an old sign into a new one or (3) the signwriter was on automatic pilot for the first half of the sign and then remembered that these days, discriminatory hiring is illegal. Other theories welcome.

To be fair, it’s not always easy to come up with an inclusive term. Here’s one effort:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, “fishermen” would be sexist, and “fishermen/women” is way too long. But “fishers” sounds strange, at least to my ears.  And so does, I’m sad to admit, “fisherperson.”  I can’t think of another term that works, though. “Marine-life procurement specialist”? “Seafood harvester”? Nope and nope.

I’ll let you, the “blog person,” figure it out. I’m off to see the deli man for some tuna, caught by fishers.

No parking in Oregon, and other absurdities

New Yorker that I am, I don’t often think about compass directions. I go uptown or downtown, and to the East or West Side. So this sign caught my attention as I walked around Seattle last week:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first impulse was to check the position of the sun and try to determine where, exactly, south was. I located the sun easily enough, but I’m staying in a house with a two-month-old. Was it morning or afternoon? I didn’t know. Nor did landmarks help, because my knowledge of Seattle geography is hazy at best. Next I looked at parking patterns. The sign was close to a corner;  only a micro-car could squeeze into the bit of curb in front of the sign. That direction was probably not south. Behind the sign were maybe fifty parked cars.  Law-abiding Seattlites are unlikely to flout parking rules in such large numbers, I reasoned — no south there, either. At last I figured out the true meaning. Listen up, Oregonians! Pay attention, Californians! You need to head north for parking. As I pondered the meaning of the sign, by the way, I decided it was fortunate I wasn’t driving a car at the time. I might have hit the tree while decoding.

And while I’m on the topic of absurdities — and I am — here’s a ticket stub from a play I saw recently:

 

 

I don’t mind paying for the ticket, and I’m semi-okay with the service charge. But paying a fee for a fee is going too far, in the same category as a charge for “shipping and handling” when I’m standing at a box office, holding my hand out for the ticket, which the cashier places on my palm. Why is that “shipping and handling”? At Madison Square Garden, it is.

One more:

Isn’t the very definition of “crime” something that is “punishable by law”? What else would it be, a crime rewarded by free ice cream cones?

It’s July 4th, America’s day to celebrate our independence — which apparently includes the right to hang silly signs and impose ridiculous fee fees. Enjoy your barbecue and your right to express yourself, absurdly or not.

Necessary Information

In colonial New England, the “necessary” was the room where you took care of necessary bodily functions — in other words, the toilet, restroom, lavatory, bathroom, latrine, powder room — pick your favorite term. (Off-topic but interesting: Why are there so many words for the same place?) The people in charge of these facilities appear to believe that they have to supply information to those who use them, as you see in this sign, which states what I would have thought was fairly obvious:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, is there someone out there who thinks leaving the door open is standard procedure? I should point out that this restroom is right next to the eating area of a small café. You can hear people munching through the closed (and locked) door when you’re inside, and I guess the people outside occasionally hear you. So is a reminder really necessary? Plus, the first statement cries out for a direct object (“before you use the facilities” or something similar). I’d also like to see a period after “Thank you,” which isn’t, I admit, a sentence but seems to need closure.

Onward and ungrammatically upward, as in capital letters:

The sign wants to direct your throwing arm (actually, hand, according to the illustration), but the sign writer throws capital letters around at random. Also note the absence of a period at the end of the sentence — which really is a sentence.

One more:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aren’t restrooms constructed for “conducting personal hygiene practices”? Isn’t that the whole point? This beauty, by the way, sat atop a sink. I washed my hands anyway. I hope everyone else does, too. It’s necessary.

 

Do Me a Favor

English can’t do without “do,” a small but important verb. All by itself, “do” means “perform, act, or achieve” or “to be suitable or acceptable.” With another verb, “do” creates questions (“Do you like my new sofa?”), emphasis (“I do like it!”) or negation (“I do not hate the color.”) And then there’s “do” in the world of signs, where it shows up in odd or unnecessary places:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why not “we repair” all those things? The only way this sign makes sense to me is if it is a response to customers complaining that the shop sells all that stuff and then leaves them on their own to figure out why the audio is supersonic and the video invisible. “You should fix these things,” I hear imaginary enraged clients shouting. In this scenario, “we do repair” is an attempt to shut down accusations.

And then there’s this sign:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, “waxing” is a gerund here, a verb-noun hybrid (the Prius of the grammar world). With “waxing” as a gerund, the verb “do” technically makes sense, because “waxing” is a direct object. This usage still sounds strange to me, though. Yet “we wax” sounds odd also.  To me, “we do waxing” comes across as a boast about some sort of mind-altering, illegal substance: “Cocaine is so 1980s! We do waxing at parties!” Forget about the sign for a minute. Isn’t the whole concept of waxing weird?  Can’t people just shave or stay hairy? But I digress. “We do waxing” should probably be “we offer waxing” or “hair-removal via wax offered here.”

One more:

 

This sign makes sense, because “massage” is a noun in this sentence (which even has a period! be still my beating, grammatical heart!). Even so, it’s part of the trend that pushes the main action into the direct-object role and inserts an unnecessary verb. I’d rather see something like “we massage backs.”

A final comment: Why “we”? If the store is advertising something, shouldn’t you assume that the employees aren’t sending you to “they” — the repair, waxing, or massage emporium down the block? “We do” want to know, so if you have any theories, post them. And do me a favor: Don’t “do” unless you have to.

 

Whatevers of the World, Unite!

I’ve written before about the modern custom of calling employees anything but. (See http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=546.) Staples has “team members” (with customers as the opponent?) and Walmart has “associates.”  This trend appears to be gaining strength. Note these signs posted in a food store near me:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first one is a lie, judging by my experience, because the elevator has never actually functioned when I’m in the store. The second seems ominous; crew members entering their “quarters” are really on their way out of the building. Perhaps that’s why the elevator doesn’t work.

But let’s hear it for Starbucks, which displays this chalkboard:

I wonder if this employee’s 401K reflects her status as “partner.”  Somehow I doubt it; in fact, I doubt that she has a 401K or any other retirement plan from the coffee chain. And what’s with “quarter”? They can’t find an employee — sorry — partner of the month? I also like that she’s encouraged to show leadership “through” her peers. “Show through”? Like the crew being shown through the exit?

Lest you think I yearn for simpler times with older terms for workers, I should point out this sign is also problematic:

And the tradeswomen go where?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave aside for a moment the fact that “tradeswomen” are out of luck. Focus on the verb. The air of command in “will use” admits no possibility that someone delivering food, services, a baby, or whatever will disobey the sign and enter the same place as the front-door worthy. The sign is prescriptive, yes, but also it presumes to be predictive. Must be nice to see the future so clearly, as a crew member, a partner, a tradesman or a whatever.