Category Archives: Snarky Remarks on Grammar

Picky observations on grammar and writing style

Out of Place

My friend Don Yates recently posted this photo on Facebook and shared it with me. It makes me ask: “What’s a nice word like you doing in a place like this?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Got it? Keep your cast-offs away from my opera! (In the spirit of the sign and the musical genre it refers to, I added an exclamation point to the previous sentence.)  The people who posted this sign like their Verdi pure, and they appreciate Wagner too much to allow an aria to become a trash basket. And they are watching!

Which brings me to this next sign:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did a triple take when I saw this sign. Okay, I mused, you can’t go into this restaurant with Fido or Fluffy, your own bottle of scotch, or . . . and here I floundered. (No fish-pun intended.) I’ve never seen a restaurant sign like this. Do people really carry in sushi unless they’re warned not to? Did someone sue after being expelled for smuggling California Rolls? I wish I could decode the characters in the upper right. Maybe they’d help me understand why “sushi” appears here.

One more beauty that stopped me cold:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applause? True, this sign stands next to a theater door, but not at the performers’ entrance. So who’s waiting for applause? What’s the intended meaning? “Don’t sell yourself short”? “Embrace your inner diva”? “Timing is everything”?

Personally, I have been waiting for applause for a long time. Like, decades. But I’ll clap a little for some nice words sent into bad situations.

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.

 

Stress Relief

Is your last nerve fraying? Have you had a fight with someone near and dear to you — or with anyone else, for that matter? Maybe you need to stop by this store for some help:

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’d think a team of therapists awaited you inside. Alas, it’s a bank. I imagine that the “relationship manager” working there makes sure you love your money and it loves you back. Or something like that.

If your love life isn’t the problem but you’re fed up with impolite people, try this shop:

 

 

 

 

 

 

No word on whether the cashier, deli worker, and butcher have proper etiquette, but if they don’t, presumably you can hang out with a courtesy clerk until you recover. Or perhaps the clerks sell courtesy? If so, I can recommend a number of potential customers whose supply is low or completely gone.

Still upset? Try this place:

Personally, I can “relive stress” all by myself, but if you need someone to send you into a nightmare flashback, this place is for you. I won’t mention “pour digestion,” spelling errors being beneath my notice, but I admit it took me two or three minutes to decipher the meaning of the second line. Is “jares” supposed to be “jars”? I wondered. But what sort of sport takes place “in jares”? Model ship building? And what on earth is “Over Use in Jares?” Some sort of recycling promotion, as in “don’t use too many jars”? Then it hit me: “in Jares” are “injuries.” Presumably the first reference is to repetitive motion problems and the second to tennis elbow and similar maladies.  After all this work, I had the “low energy” the shopkeepers are supposed to treat. I’d have gone in, but I didn’t want to relive any stress.

Bad Jelly

A while ago a friend sent me a photo that perfectly captures the national mood, or so it seems to me judging by what I read in the paper:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m in a “gripe” mood also. So settle in with a little jelly, fellow complainers, and express your own annoyances. Here are three of mine:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has long been my position that ‘n (intended as a contraction of “and”) is a grunt, not a word. Here it appears with double quotation marks. My advice: If you’re going to butcher a contraction, at least use the proper punctuation to do so. In this case, place an apostrophe before and after the n to indicate that a and d have been dropped.

Next gripe:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a grammarian, not a mathematician, but shouldn’t “Three Cheese Mac & Cheese” be made with three types of cheese? Yet the second line specifies that the dish is “made with American and Swiss Cheese.” I checked the ingredient list, which lists no other identifiable dairy product. I thought about crossing out “three” and penciling in “two,” but I decided that customers, unlike label makers, can count.

One more:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t usually bother with spelling errors, but this one I can’t ignore. Unless they’re trying to exclude everyone except Chicago and Boston baseball professionals, the word is “socks.” Second, even if the sign does refer to the White Sox and Red Sox, you don’t need the final “s.” “Sox” is a plural term. Which makes me wonder what you call a single major leaguer from one of these teams. I can’t imagine an announcer introducing “the next sock at bat.” Baseball fans, feel free to enlighten me, despite the fact that I’ve clearly eaten too much “gripe jelly.”  I think I’ll stick with plain peanut butter for a while, at least until I get my perspective back.

Oxymorons, Again

Consistency seems to be out of style these days. A while ago I posted a couple of signs that contradict themselves (See “Oxymorons” at http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=1195). I keep finding more, such as this one, which hangs over the entrance to a parking garage:

Quik park slowly. Got that?

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I know that “Quik” is part of the name, but you’d think the owner would move “quik” away from “slowly,” if only to keep the attention of a potential customer who’s in a hurry. And is it too much to ask for a “c” before the “k”?

A penny to anyone who can explain what “shop and save for free” means, in the context of bakeware or anything else:

Shop for free?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not to mention whether (and where) you should brake your vehicle:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or where you should shop, and for what:

A sidewalk inside?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Either the slabs of cement are ten bucks each or the store is having the equivalent of a garage sale in the dining room. Either way, something’s odd. Bottom line: People often think we New Yorkers are rude (and sometimes, we are). But mostly we’re just confused.

A Fog of Words

The city is sitting in a soup of gray fog as I write this post, much like the meaning of these earnest but incomprehensible signs. First up is from a nearby market that prides itself on fair-traded, locally grown, never-met-a-chemical produce:

Whose safety?

 

Okay, I get that skates inside a store can lead to crashes and possible puncture wounds from organic asparagus. I can also imagine that stepping on a stray artichoke with a bare foot might lead to a deadly collision with a pile of kale or a tub of alfalfa sprouts. But why is a shirt necessary for safety? Perhaps male customers showing off the effects of all those hours with a personal trainer elicit attacks from envious (or lustful) fellow shoppers. And pets? Is the store owner assuming that your poodle, well behaved in your house and on the street, will go berserk and bite you upon seeing the dog biscuit display? What the sign ought to say, I imagine, is that the shirtless, shoeless, pet-ful and skated customers may annoy and, by a long stretch of the imagination, endanger the staff and other shoppers.

The next sign features a word that hasn’t yet made it into the Oxford English Dictionary:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “clean up” part is clear, even without the smear of what I hope is dirt that a passerby added to a strategic spot on the sign. But what does “leash-curb” mean? Tie Fido to the sidewalk edge? Limit (curb) the length of extendable leashes? I’d support that one in a heartbeat, having tripped or leapt over many a twenty-foot tether.  My guess is that the hyphen is a comma that unwisely flattened out and floated up.

One more, for fans of beauty products:

 

 

Are the “50+ ingredients” this store “won’t sell” the appositive of “the finest ingredients” cited in the first line? I can just imagine the manager declaring that “this is the best hand cream in the world, so we don’t carry it and never will.” I’m tempted to go into the store with a list of 50+ ingredients I won’t buy.  That is, I would be tempted if I had the tiniest clue about or interest in body-care ingredients. By the way, I inserted a hyphen to link “body” to “care.” Without the hyphen, the “body” may conceivably be attached to “50+,” in which case you can’t shop here if you’re AARP-eligible.

No Time Like the Future

Does the English language have a future – tense, that is? Most grammarians keep things simple and answer yes. A few, though, see the future as an aspect of present tense, based on the fact that the verb form does not change in a sentence about what has yet to happen, as it does when, for example, “walk” turns into “walked” in a sentence about the past. To talk about the future, the main verb simply acquires “shall” or “will” — helping verbs, in this sort of analysis.

For the record, I think future tense does exist. But I’m intrigued by the philosophical implications of the other way of thinking – that the future, as we conceive it, is solely an aspect of what is happening right now. From that perspective, present actions carry more weight. Or, as thousands upon thousands of coffee mugs put it, “The past is gone. The future has yet to come. Only the present moment is real.” Or something like that.

I thought about future tense when I encountered this sign in the emergency entrance to a hospital:

Will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As everyone who’s ever rushed to an emergency room knows, ten minutes of terror precede five hours or so of tedium (if you’re lucky). So I had a lot of time to think about the statement that “the nursing station will be on the left.”  Why not “is”?  Why future tense? Are workers scurrying around with hammers and dry wall, constructing the nursing station as you open the door?

Eventually I realized that the sign speaks to the state of mind of the people who are reading it. Most likely they’re scared because of what’s happening in the present moment and hoping that the moments, hours, days or even years to come will be better.  No general-purpose sign can promise that everything will be all right — not in a hospital. Uncertainty is king. But the sign supplies one small concrete truth to hang onto. Follow the hallway, and the nursing station — and the help it provides — will be on the left. Not much, maybe, but in that moment, that present moment, enough to keep you going.

Logical Questions

Signs and labels typically hit you with a message that you can absorb quickly. But this quality comes with a built-in problem; you have to infer the context and the implied or possible extension of what’s actually there. Which brings me to these signs, and the logical questions they inspire. The first is a label on a soda bottle:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dieters’ delight, right? But why highlight “per 8 fl oz serving”? Do 4 ounces have half the calorie count? If so, what’s half of zero? What about 16 ounces? Does the number jump to, say, 1000 calories because the calories from the first 8 ounces are packed into the next 8, the way a “first thirty days free” subscription suddenly increases to $40/month thereafter? I bought this beverage anyway because I wanted club soda, but I would have been more comfortable with a label reading “no calories because it’s just water and a couple of minerals.” Honesty being the best policy and all.

Next up is a Valentine’s Day special, a bit late:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I understand “cookie cakes,” which I imagine combine two food groups, cookies and cakes, similar to “cronuts,” the food-fad that mixed doughnuts and croissants.  No need to discuss “heart shaped,” which is obvious. What gets me about the sign is the asterisk and its explanation. What on earth does “full legal available” mean?  If the cookie cakes were available until “Feb 21,” would they be totally illegal? Half legal and half illegal? Unavailable?

Last but not least:

 

 

 

 

 

 

At first I thought that “pick-app” was, in fact, an app. And it is! Download this code, and you’ve got a lifetime supply of pick-up lines to throw at prospective romantic partners. (No kidding. Really.) But if the sign refers to that app, how does “delivery” fit in? Does the app deliver the line, so you don’t have to say anything? Or does “delivery” refer to results —  a date or a phone number?

Theories welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammarian in a Different City

I spent the last two weeks as a grammarian in three different cities — Madrid, Granada, and London. Far be it for me to write about Spanish signs, even those translated into English. How could I criticize, given that I wrote the Spanish equivalent of “pitifully, I can’t meet you for dinner” in response to an invitation from a friend? Nor would I dare take on the British. More than two centuries after the colonies declared independence, some Americans — including me — still harbor the idea that English in the Mother Country is superior.

I did notice one or two signs in London, on the window of a shop selling bespoke umbrellas and other, more unusual merchandise:

Paging James Bond.

Paging James Bond.

 

 

I go to this shop every time I’m in London, not to buy but to gape. I haven’t yet had the nerve to ask how “dagger canes” differ from “swordsticks,” but if I did, I’m sure one of the extremely helpful employees would explain. Nor have I glimpsed any “life preservers,” unless umbrellas sturdy enough to protect you in a flash flood rate that designation. What interests me about this sign is the punctuation — commas after the first two items and a period (“full stop,” in British English) after the last. Contemporary sign-makers on either side of the Atlantic seldom bother to insert commas. Periods, on the other hand, are trendy. (See “Stop Full Stop” at  http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=1364 for more on this subject). But commas and periods together in a sign? Unprecedented, at least for me.

My first thought was that this punctuation reflected a different era, as indeed the store itself does:

Late of Saville Place.

Late of 1, 2, & 3 Saville Place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In fact, the sign understates the store’s age; it was “estd” in 1830. I have no basis for comparison, though, as I was unable to find other signs from the same era.

However, conventions of language tend to be supported by some sort of rationale. I considered the sign again and decided that the commas may be separating items in a list, which ends with a period. In that case, though, I’d expect a conjunction (probably “and”) before “swordsticks.”  Furthermore, I wouldn’t expect to find a comma preceding the conjunction — not in Britain. That last comma usually shows up in American lists but not in British lists. It’s called “the Oxford comma” in Britain and, sometimes, “the Harvard comma” in the United States. (Perhaps “ivy comma” should be the universal, trans-Atlantic term?)  I finally concluded that the comma between “dagger canes” and “swordsticks” substitutes for the conjunction. There’s a comma before the implied “and” because “and” isn’t on the sign. This theory makes sense to me, but I’m open to other interpretations.

Regardless of punctuation, do visit this shop if you’re ever in London. The life you preserve may be your own.