Category Archives: Working World

Unabashed mockery of work-related language

Time to Drop Out

Scientists tell us that communication is key to human nature, but they’re just stating what is obvious to every person who ever lived. And speaking of obvious, this sign easily reaches overkill territory:

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Pick Up/Drop Off Only”? Someone from the bus company thought it necessary to tell us that. Because otherwise customers might think that the curb near this sign is handy for, I don’t know, a shower and a shave or maybe a vacation rental. 

Short digression: It occurs to me that I’ve posted a lot about buses lately:  signs announcing in-bus DNA testing and banning luggage-rack climbing, for example (http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=2240). Maybe it’s the crazy and at times infuriating nature of this form of transportation that brings out the worst in people — and not just in New York City. When I typed the Spanish word for “bus stop” during a recent trip to Madrid, my phone’s autocorrect kept trying to attach a rather strong curse word to “autobus.”

And then there’s this one, from the window of a dry-cleaner:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moment I saw this sign, I wondered why anyone would “only drop off” clothes. Don’t customers want their stuff back? Apparently yes, as the store is now out of business. Instead of dropping off my good clothes (and saying goodbye to them) at this shop, I must now go to a different dry-cleaner. Maybe here:

No word about pick up, but at least the blazers and slacks I drop off will be “well looked after” while they’re away from home. Or in their new homes. Whatever. I’m dropping out of this discussion.

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.

The Next Logical Question

A challenge of writing is to distinguish between what’s in the mind and what’s on the page, or, in the case of this blog post, on the sign. No doubt these sign writers thought they were expressing themselves perfectly, but each left me with at least one unanswered question. For example:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unanswered Question: What do the “gas leaks” say?

I should note that a little punctuation would have gone a long way. A question mark after “leaks” and a period or exclamation point after “us” would do nicely here. On the other hand, clarity may be overrated. I did spend an enjoyable quarter hour thinking up possible dialogue:

COMPANY: Good morning. How may I help you?

GAS LEAK: Hiss …sss … sss.

Longer but not clearer is this one:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unanswered Questions: Why do “pearls” (plural) outnumber “diamond” (singular)? And does the shop really grind up precious gems? Most important: Does anyone working in this shop actually know what these facials are?

Once again I’m struck by the number of nonsense words employed by the “beauty” industry. I read a Sunday NY Times feature on skin and hair care for several weeks before I realized that it was not, in fact, a parody. Moving on:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unanswered Questions: How many passengers need a DNA Kit? Can’t they check their genetic heritage at home? Does the transit authority seriously believe that a robber will stand still long enough for a cheek swab?

The difference between “may be” and “is” seems significant, but I can’t quite figure out why. My best guess is that the MTA wants you to know that they are not necessarily watching but they are always ready to roll when it comes to your genes. Last one:

Unanswered Question: What happened to the candlestick maker?

I did toy with the idea that the “butcher” chops up a “prime” number — not into factors, but maybe into pieces, like severing the top circle of an eight from the bottom. That interpretation leaves out the “baker,” who may bake less than prime quality bread and cake. Perhaps that’s why the candlestick maker quit.

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.

No, No, a Thousand Times No

Common wisdom says that we’re living in an “anything goes” era, when the norms of society have been run through a wood-chipper. This may be true, but it hasn’t stopped people from attempting to regulate — and especially to prohibit — various forms of behavior. Witness this sign:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, I understand the passion that prompted this sign. Who wants to dig into plumbing and remove food, not to mention cat litter? What intrigues me is the capitalization. Why throw a capital letter at a “Q-Tip” and withhold one from “baby wipes”? Maybe it’s a brand-name issue, but I doubt there’s a copyrighted product called “Food” or “Sanitary Towels.” Before I move on to the next sign, I should mention that I’m not completely sure what  “baby wipes even they are flushable (they really are not)” means. I’m leaning toward “don’t believe the blurb on the package,” a statement that I apply to everything I buy.

And then there’s this sign in a public plaza:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I understand most of these prohibitions, even though I don’t necessarily agree with the choices. “Bike crossing” makes me imagine a Schwinn spending some private time with a Citibike, and before you know it, a bike crossing occurs.  Just kidding. In real life, my best guess is that “crossing” refers to cutting diagonally from one street to another that’s perpendicular. But is it really necessary to state that a bike shouldn’t be ridden through a twisted, narrow path in a plaza full of people, many of whom are little kids? This is New York, so the answer is probably yes, but because this is New York, the sign  won’t make one bit of difference. While reading and puzzling over the sign, the cyclist will probably run into someone anyway.

Moving (but not cycling) on:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How did “music” arrive on this list? And is “site safety prohibited”? And is music that dangerous? Having lived through the Sixties, I agree that revolutions have soundtracks. Still, it’s disturbing to see music listed with smoking, drugs, and weapons. I do love the last line, especially “shall be strictly enforced.” “Shall,” which once upon a time was the emphatic form in the third person (as you see it here), has largely given way to “will” in American English. Adhering to this venerable usage makes me want to observe every rule this site-manager insists on.  I just have to say yes, yes, a thousand times yes, to anyone who writes “shall be.”

 

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.

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.

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.