Category Archives: Snarky Remarks on Grammar

Picky observations on grammar and writing style


Poet T. S. Eliot called April “the cruelest month,” but he was wrong. It’s definitely February. The holidays are over and spring feels far, far away. Plus, the month is almost impossible to spell correctly. And sometimes it has an extra day! To cheer myself up as February staggers to its end, I snapped these photos of silly signage. I hope they make you smile.

First, a store-closing notice:

“Bitter cold summers, sweltering summers.” Huh. I’ve lived in New York City all my life, and I don’t remember any “bitter cold” July or August days. This store went out of business because, I suspect, the lease the owners signed was checked as carefully as the text of this message.

To defend yourself against “bitter cold summers,” you might try working out:







Pilates, fine. But the other part? We’ve all got “privates” — and I don’t mean the military sort —  so I don’t see a need to purchase any.

This one, for reasons known only to my phone’s camera, is rather small, but I’m posting it anyway because . . . well, you’ll see:




In case you can’t read it, the sign says: “self dog wash instructions.” Where do I start? How about here: It’s reasonable to assume that Fido doesn’t know how to lather up and rinse thoroughly without instructions, but if you assume that, you have to assume that Fido can’t read either.

One more:







In case you’re craving a bit of jerky or a nice bone, you know where to go. Enjoy!

Verbal Warfare

No, I’m not talking politics. This is a grammar blog! I’m talking about verb forms employed as nouns or descriptions, adding a dash of information — or, in the case of these signs, misinformation. Have a look:







I appreciate the sentiments, which appeared in one outpost of a national coffee chain, and I enjoy the creative capitalization. The last line of the message was a little alarming, though. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to see employees “serving,” not “servicing,” customers. If I need an oil change, I’ll look elsewhere. (I won’t make a pun about the other definition; this is a G-rated post. Besides, a little dictionary research won’t hurt you.)

Next up is this offer:







I’m willing to overlook “toping” charges for my pizza, but not “designed your own salad.” As the sign reads (lacking punctuation, of course), a “personal pizza designed your own salad.” Huh. I can only hope the ingredients of the salad are better than the grammar.

And then there’s this one:

I was thinking about upgrading my shower, but I guess I waited too long. This company “specialized in bathrooms” but now has moved on to bigger and better things. Too bad.  I do need someone I can rely on. Perhaps I’ll try this place:







I’ll be charitable and assume that the shopkeeper is busy making sure light fixtures don’t catch fire and has no time to correct the sign. Points for artistry with duct tape, though.

Maybe I’ll turn to this firm:

If they’re “certified,” they can’t be that bad, right? Don’t ask me what they’re “certified” in (or “of,” as the sign says). At least they’re in NY — well, make that “Ny,” but nothing’s perfect. Not even verbals.

It Takes Two . . . to Confuse

How much can you communicate in just two words? And how much confusion can you create with two words? The answer to both questions: quite a bit. Check out this sign, which my friend Catherine found in a subway station:

“Rescue Assistance”? Is this where EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders go for help? Or does the NYCTA  envision rescues that need a little extra oomph? NYCTA, by the way, is the agency that runs the subways, “run” being applicable only when the trains are actually moving, which, as riders know, isn’t all that often these days. And what’s with the wheelchair icon? Do subway officials think only wheelchair users need “rescue assistance”? If so, they’re not paying attention. First of all, plenty of riders walking around on two feet need “rescue” or “assistance.” (I can’t be sure that they need “rescue assistance” because I don’t know what that phrase means.) Second, in a subway system more than a century old, elevators and other sorts of accommodations for wheelchair users are few and far between. I can count on the fingers of half a hand how many wheelchairs I’ve seen in a subway. Maybe a quarter of a hand. A fifth? Okay, never.

Moving on:







This sign reminds me of a scene in a Simpsons episode when Bart is working on his science project. He stares at a spud and writes something like: “Four o’clock. Still a potato.” I did “watch ice” at this spot for about fifteen minutes. It stayed there, being ice. I got cold and moved on.

And then there’s this one, which I spotted in Madrid. It’s in Spanish, but I think the meaning — the literal one, anyway — is easy to grasp:








I admit that poetry and psychoanalysis are related. I’m just wondering about logistics. Does the therapist have the patient recite poetry and interpret it? Then there’s insurance coverage. How does one file a claim for a sonnet?

These two-word dilemmas may drive me to buy something at this store, depicted in a photo snapped by my friend Kelly:

Whoever sent the text to the sign manufacturer had clearly imbibed some “sprits” first. Memo to owner: Proofread before you hang an awning. Memo to self: Stay away from the liquor cabinet before blogging.

They Should Know Better, Part 2

In the previous post I lamented (okay, mocked) errors made by major corporations and my favorite newspaper, The New York Times. Sadly, I have more than enough material for a second post on the same topic. Check out this sign, which did NOT appear in a hair salon or wig store:







This sign is fine if the intent is to ban the passing of hair clumps, shining though the tresses may be. But I suspect the intended meaning is that the couple with the dog must stay away. Or maybe they’re the only ones allowed? It’s worth noting that this sign is made of enamel over metal. If you’re going to all that trouble, a moment with spell-check would seem appropriate.

Moving on to a passage from a novel, as it appears on my Kindle:







“Phased”? Pardon me a moment while I grind my teeth. “Phase” as a verb means “introduce in gradual stages.” The verb “faze,” on the other hand, means “to daunt or disturb.”  This book was professionally edited (presumably) before being sold by a major publisher. And yes, this book may be categorized as junk-food reading, which I admit I indulge in, but I expect literacy all the same.

And then there’s this statement from the NY Times:

Huh? I read this several times before guessing that the hyphenated element means “present.” I question that hyphenation, but even if it were correct, “who’s who in-house” is awkward and confusing. The newspaper of record shouldn’t require repeated reading to reveal meaning.

Last one, also from the Times:







I paused at “web vertical.” Before I unleashed my scorn I looked up “vertical” and got all the meanings I expected (“upright,” “perpendicular to the horizon,” and similar definitions). But then I checked “web vertical” and discovered that a website covering one topic in depth is “vertical.” “Horizontal” sites cover many topics briefly. So this time the joke was on me. I read quite a bit about technology, and I should have known better.

They Should Know Better

When I read hand-lettered signs in small stores, I readily accept a certain number of mistakes from proprietors who, I presume, are too busy to proofread because they have to order stock, supervise employees, and fill out tax forms. But when major companies are involved, my expectations rise. Obviously I’m courting disappointment, because Those Who Should Know Better often don’t. Witness this advertisement from a nationwide cosmetics chain:

As a verb, “gift” strikes me as a bit pretentious, but it’s not incorrect. The direct object, though, is another issue entirely. The sign urges you to “gift” people. Human trafficking, anyone? Please say no, even if you have a few relatives you wouldn’t mind “gifting” to someone willing to take them far, far away from your holiday gatherings.

And then there’s the phone company. I won’t tell you which one; I imagine it’s easy to find horror stories about all of them. I had to visit and call the one responsible for this ad no fewer than eight times before I succeeded in canceling my late husband’s phone contract. Check out this recruitment pitch:







If they can’t come up with the proper contraction (“you’re,” not “your”), how can they “practice data story-telling, analytics, and more”? And while I’m on the subject, do we actually want “data story-telling”? Can’t we manage with “data” alone, leaving “story-telling” to fiction writers?

I count on good grammar when I read my favorite newspaper, The New York Times, and usually that’s what I get. Every once in a while, though, the editors miss something. Perhaps the excitement surrounding Amazon’s search for new office space overpowered this writer:







I wouldn’t mind “500,000 square foot modern of office space,” if I could figure out what it is.

One more, from a chain restaurant:







I’ve always wanted to try the wings at this restaurant, but I’ll pass on the “sloo smoked BBQ.” I’ve never liked the taste of “sloo.”

Bus Woes

Aren’t buses annoying? First of all, there’s that plural. The usual phonetic rules call for a double “s” in the plural, and some people do indeed write “busses.” “Buses” is more common, yet for some reason I feel slightly wrong every time I write it. Then there’s the actual bus, which never comes on time because it’s waiting for a quorum. Passengers, that’s the real reason you see four buses pull up at the same time. Unless there’s a group of four, the bus-run can’t begin. Finally, there are the silly signs both inside and outside of the vehicles. For example:







It’s worth noting that NYC city buses (except those on the airport route) don’t have luggage racks. But even if they did, are there people who need to be reminded not to climb the walls and sling a leg over a metal bar? Actually, scratch that question. This is NYC, so the answer is probably yes. I do wonder why “Luggage Rack” is capitalized. Normally, generic nouns are written in lower case. Perhaps adding capital letters makes the nonexistent item more real.

Moving on:

This one was on a tourist bus, so warning people not to slide the roof or throw packages is probably a good idea. People’s brains tend to hibernate when they’re on vacation. My favorite part of this sign is “frequencies.” I’d expect a singular there, because the time period between events varies, not the time periods. “Frequencies” makes me think of radio stations and, vaguely, astrophysics, which I can think about only vaguely because I have no actual knowledge of the subject. Also, why “approximately”? Isn’t that implied by “vary from 8 to 15 minutes”?

I used this photo in another post ( but I can’t resist repeating it because it’s such a good example of the “bizarre bus sign” genre:







DNA. Good to know. If you want to maintain your privacy, try not to shed any cells while riding. And if you wish to explore your genetic heritage, this bus is for you. Happy riding.

Planes, But No Trains or Automobiles

I’ve spent way too much time in airports lately, but my time loss is Grammarian-in-the-City’s gain, because those hours yielded some interesting material for this blog.

First up is a sign in JFK Airport that I stared at for what seemed like hours (because it actually was hours — the plane was late):

Good advice. I hate collaborating alone.

Moving on, I saw this advertisement in Madrid’s Barajas Airport:







I’m not sure what a “deli flight” is, but I’m certain that I didn’t have one. I’m pretty sure I don’t want one, either.

Speaking of Barajas, the map of stores and other amenities in Terminal 4 included this item:

The number 15 corresponds to a spot on the map (I think), so that’s one mystery solved. I never did find the “Hour Passion” store to see what it was selling. I’m not sure I want to know.

My ideal airport would let me get in, get on, and get out as quickly as possible. Too bad that ideal never becomes remotely real. If you’re flying during the holidays, good luck!  Feel free to send me any interesting signs you encounter.

Practice What You Pre-ach

The prefix pre- is a useful little syllable that means “before” — a fact that makes this sign, which appeared on the window of a new store, particularly confusing:







I’m assuming that “Pre Open” means the store hasn’t had an official grand opening with flags, pop-ups on social media, and token gifts for customers. “Liquidation” is what stores do when they turn all their assets into cash prior to going out of business. So this sign means that the store is (a) not yet open and (b) preparing to close forever. If you want to buy anything here, you have to jump right on the line between existence and nonexistence.

Here’s another mangled  pre- sign:







Huh? This sales pitch is the equivalent of “Hurry in! Today’s $50 trinket will be $25 tomorrow! Take advantage of our “pre sale” and lose money!” Who could resist that offer?

Taking a break from writing this post, I checked Facebook, which told me that this blog had drawn “ten new previews” since the last time I looked. I know from the weekly stats Facebook sends me that Grammarian in the City gets twice as many “previews” as views. What I don’t know is the Facebook definition of preview. Someone takes a quick look and decides nope, not for me? But isn’t that a view? Anyone out there who knows, please share the knowledge.

All this talk about pre- makes me ponder post-, a prefix meaning “after.” When it’s not in that role, post shows up as a noun meaning “letters that come in the mail,” “a job,” or “an upright building support,” among other definitions. The derivations are different, but it’s tempting to think those words arose from the assumption that mail is always late, as are workers and contractors. Not to mention bloggers, whose posts appear several days after their intended publication date. Yes, I’m in that tardy group, as I’d planned to publish this post last Wednesday. My pre-New Year’s resolution is not to postpone posts. Preview this page frequently to see whether I keep my resolution.

Traffic Favorites

During the holiday season “clip shows” pop up, presumably to give those involved in creating them some time with their families. Grammarian in the City is no different. I’ve just returned from vacation, where I occasionally snapped photos of ridiculous signs for use in future posts. While working through jet lag, I’m recombining bits of old posts of some of my favorite traffic signs, such as . . .







The word “oxymoron” was invented for situations like this one — especially the last two syllables, which are reserved for the sign-posters, who want you to stop and not stop at the same intersection — which, by the way, is in front of the United Nations, where contradictory statements occur with some regularity.

And then there’s . . .

If you’re a truck needing Weight Watchers, you can drive on this street as long as you don’t get an “overweight permit,” which I presume is some sort of legal document. Thus this sign tells you to break the law or stay off Park Avenue.

And for those of you who drive taxis . . .

From this sign I assume that taxis with more than one passenger can go anywhere, but if your destination is above “46 St” or you have a crowd in the back seat, you’re out of luck.

Holiday Shopping

Judging by the signs I’ve spotted recently, merchants are hoping you’ll purchase fashionable holiday attire — for your furniture. An example:

Surely you weren’t planning on ushering guests into a room with a naked table! A four-legged pair of jeans would do nicely for a hip, can’t-be-bothered-to-dress-up dinette set. An evening gown with a very wide skirt saves formal hosts from the embarrassment of an underdressed eating surface. No hint from the shopkeeper about what sort of “table clothes” are available. If the customer isn’t pleased with the styles on sale, “sheets” could possibly preserve the table’s modesty.

Sheets, by the way, seem to tangle when they encounter signs, much as they do in a washing machine:

My bed has lumps, but no bedbugs or a single  “pillow sheet.” How about yours? Maybe a “pillow sheet” would be a good gift.

Still in the linen closet, I’ll move on to the next sign, trying not to cry that the apostrophe rule has crashed and burned once again:







The apostrophe give a sheet possession of the “sale,” which, judging by the price but not the quality of the merchandise, is a pretty good deal. Why is it that so many people persist in thinking that an apostrophe creates a plural? Theories welcome.

I’m obviously stressed about punctuation, and this sign didn’t help:

The bullet point in front of “house” was odd because there were no other items on the sign, hence no bulleted list. But if I’m opting to tinker with punctuation, I’m going for a comma after “house.” That comma would create a direct address statement appropriate to this holiday season:  “House, hold items [so I don’t have to].” See? Shopping-stress relief!

Enough grammar quibbles. Focus on what’s important about Thanksgiving and other holidays:








Do what the sign says: “Enjoy you holiday.”