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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Patient

Every once in a while a word or phrase snags my mind and pulls my attention away from more important things, like oncoming traffic or melting polar ice caps. This message on a sign in front of a medical pavilion caught my eye and took me away, however briefly, from my worries about the serious illness treated there:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll forgo all the jokes about why “patient” is the appropriate term for someone who waits, patiently or not, to see a doctor. The medical personnel I’ve recently gotten to know have a lot of patients — all of which require a lot of patience. Calmly and competently the doctors, nurses, and staff answer questions, soothe fears, and minister to every ailment, taking as much time as the patient, not the doctor, needs.

So I’ll skip the first word on the sign and focus on the rest of it, which at first offended me. It made me think of a loading dock, where things — inanimate objects, not people — are hoisted onto or off of trucks. How demeaning, I thought. But sick people, to an extent, do take on some characteristics of objects. They’re moved around, often without understanding where or why, because their bodies require attention. The normal dignity of adulthood rightly takes a backseat during illness.  Still, “loading and unloading” seems harsh. No one wants to be viewed as cargo.

But what are the alternatives? My first thought was “pick up and drop off.” That wording is not as bad as “loading and unloading,” but it’s far from perfect. “Pick up and drop off” shows up on laundromats and dry cleaners, UPS stores, and so forth. The phrase still conjures up things, just smaller items like packages instead of larger loaded or unloaded crates. (True, kids are picked up or dropped off, but that fact underscores the loss of independence that adult patients experience.)

Nor do longer phrases work for this sign, because drivers need to comprehend the meaning immediately. For this reason I discarded (dropped off? unloaded?) “Stop here only long enough for patients to get out of or into your car.” By the time a driver comes to the end of that sentence, fifteen cars are lined up behind, horns blaring.  Less common phrases have the same problem. Do you want a driver who’s decoding “disembark” or “alight” instead of flicking the signal lever and easing over to the curb?

Nothing I’ve come up with really works, so I’ll have to live with “loading and unloading.” I’m open to suggestions, though. Write when you have time. I can wait. I’m patient.

Bossy

New York signs make a valiant effort to boss people around. Valiant, but futile, as New Yorkers are not known for their unquestioning obedience. Yet the effort continues. Call it faith, if you’re an optimist, or insanity, if you’re not. Here’s an example of bossy New York, in the primary image I chose for this blog:

NYC Block Box Sign

 

I often wonder whether non-New Yorkers understand this sign, which directs cars to stay out of the intersection (“the box”) when the traffic light turns red. New Yorkers decode it easily; they just choose to ignore it. Effective or not,  this sign is one of my favorites, rivaled only by the classic “Don’t even think of parking here” that sadly has disappeared from the streets of New York. Not that drivers paid attention to that one either.

Recently I snapped photos of two lists of no-nos. Here’s one from a city bus:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Except for the first (littering), riders mostly obey the other prohibitions on this list. I don’t credit the sign, though, because in this day and age, hardly anyone assumes that smoking is allowed on public transit. Spitting is rare because of the gross-out factor.  The last prohibition seems to be a leftover from the boom-box era, when teenagers lugging thirty pounds of technology blasted thumpingly loud music into their fellow riders’ ears.  Even then, those devices were more often playing CD tracks, not radio broadcasts.

The next sign was posted by the management of an apartment building:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I saw this sign, no one was around, so no one was noncompliant. So is this an effective sign? In my view, no, because of its content.  Maybe a couple of kids gave up ball-playing, but that’s probably because they’d been scolded by someone who didn’t want to listen to the thump of a tennis ball or a Spaldeen (a pink ball essential to stickball, a NY street sport that no one plays anymore because of all the Uber vans clogging the road). Nor does the sign stop “loitering.” That activity disappears naturally because if you stand in one spot, a preoccupied pedestrian is likely to knock you over. Side point: Why specify “sitting in front of building”? Perhaps you’re allowed to sit next to or behind the structure? Or on top of it, if you can get past the doorman? I  agree with the ban on peddling. It’s a well known fact that one sidewalk cart, unopposed, spawns ten more each day, each of which in turn gives rise to ten more, leading to . . . well, you can imagine. But peddlng is, in my opinion, less of a problem for this building than pedaling — bikes criss-crossing the sidewalk and terrifying everyone moving on actual feet.

But carriages? True, strollers increasingly resemble Hummers. I’ve been kneecapped by more than a few baby carriages myself. But seriously — how can you tell parents that their baby’s primary mode of transportation is not welcome?  You may have noticed that the list ends with “under penalty of law.” Illegal baby carriages. Who knew? Unless they’re referring to a Jane Austen sort of carriage? Or the horse-drawn ones that circle Central Park? Not likely.

It seems to me that New Yorkers, with their ingenuity and preference for hanging out (loitering?) on the cutting edge, should be able to come up with a better “don’t” list. Mine isn’t complete, but so far I’ve got cell-phone blathering in crowded areas (especially when it involves relationships, recent surgery, or job complaints),  texting while walking, and bicycling on the sidewalk. What’s on your list? Feel free to send it in. First prize is a boom box with an AM/FM connection, which you can use whenever you sit next to a “no radio playing” sign.

Breakage

A recent article in the New York Times reported that airlines count on “breakage” to save money. The reporter explains that many  airlines issue a voucher for a free checked bag on a future trip when the luggage you stashed for your current trip doesn’t reach you until more than 24 hours after landing. Which raises the question: What does the passenger do in the “acceptable” 24-hour interval? Leave teeth unbrushed, sleep without jammies, recycle underwear?

By offering you a voucher for the future, the airlines appear to hope that (a) you’ll be willing to fly with them again even though you’re in Seattle and your luggage is in Kuala Lumpur and (b) you’ll stop complaining because you have a voucher to pay a fee that they should never have been imposed in the first place. The third possibility is that they hope you’ll forget about the voucher completely, even if you do fly again on the same airline.

This last assumption, according to the Times, is known as “breakage.” The chain of reimbursement comes undone more often than not, and the airline incurs a theoretical but not a real expense. Why? My guess is that most customers forget about the voucher or lose it in the morass of junk mail that piles up on even the neatest kitchen counter.  I saw this sign (unrelated to airline travel) that captures the phenomenon the Times describes:

 

 

 

 

Sitting in a remote office, the corporate big-wigs of the airline world wear down the customers’ sense of control with late and overcrowded planes, ever-tinier seats and bathrooms, and expensive inedible snacks. Voucher breakage is just the final tug on a fragile chain.

I speculate about another possible motive for breakage. It strikes me that it’s hard to believe that you’ll actually get a bit of justice in this unjust world.  It’s tough to exert yourself to right a wrong that you didn’t create. As you’re watching the baggage carousel spit out suitcase after suitcase without spotting your own, you may have enough energy to act, but you can’t claim and use the voucher then. Three months later, as you contemplate a trip, it’s difficult to summon up the same level of outrage. To use a phrase that applies more and more these days, you may “normalize” bad behavior — which of course then increases.

My advice: resist breakage! Claim what’s due to you — in luggage and in life.

New Year’s Hodgepodge

The definition of “hodgepodge” — a great word if ever there was one — is “a confusing mixture.” Life feels like a hodgepodge these days, but laughter is an essential reaction to any absurd or difficult situation. In that spirit, here’s a New Year’s hodgepodge of incomprehensible New York City signs. First up is an example of over-eager punctuation:

Really not allowed. Really a bar. Thanks you for asking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m guessing a nervous owner is aiming for an emphatic tone. If so, mission accomplished. But why? Do people bring their dogs, cats, boa constrictors, parrots and any other NYC pets (and by the way, I’ve seen all of these at one time or another on city streets) into the store if only one exclamation point appears? And what’s with the underlined “bar”? Wouldn’t “open” be the more relevant word? Unless there’s a secret message (martinis available here, disguised as “food”)?

Friendly is good, right? Maybe not in this context, though:

Friendly to what?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this product “friendly” to the conditions (asthma, allergy) or to those who have them? I’m assuming the latter, but the sign is ambiguous at best. And it’s trademarked! You’d think the sign-writer/trade-marker would check with a grammarian before signing off (pun intended) on this slogan.

Next up is a salon sign offering a very specific service:

Who’s counting?

 

 

I’m not really sure what “Natural Lash Extns.” are, and I’m very sure I don’t want to find out via personal experience. My real question concerns the number. Is someone sitting there counting? Do lashes come in numbered sets? And why 90? Is 75 too little? Inquiring minds want to know.

And while I’m on the subject of numbers, I’ll end this hodgepodge with a number of my own: 2017. I hope it’s a happy, healthy year for all of you.

Of Course

I’ve noted before in this blog the gradual disappearance of “you’re welcome” as a response to an expression of thanks.  (See “No Problem? Problem!”  http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=305 ) Lately, because someone I love is ill, I’ve been spending a lot of time in hospital rooms. As dedicated caregivers tend to him — and they are dedicated — I often find myself thanking them. Nearly every one of them replies, “Of course.”

At first I was puzzled by this phrase, but the alternatives don’t really fit. “You’re welcome” — to what? The world of serious illness? No one is welcome there. “No problem.” That’s an obvious nonstarter; everyone in the hospital has plenty of problems. “No worries.” Ditto.

Gradually I’ve come to accept and even like medical substitution of “of course” for “you’re welcome.”  Because what are these people really saying? Of course I will help you with that medicine, give you a clean gown, untangle that tube, whatever. Of course I will answer all your questions. Of course I will speak to the doctor, insurance company, nurse, technician . . . whomever. And when you’re ill, of course you need these things and much more.

Which brings me to the real point. What happens to people who don’t have this attention but need it? I’ve been so immersed in what’s going on in my personal world that I’ve hardly noticed what’s happening in the nation and the world, but I can’t help wondering about those for whom “of course” isn’t the reply they hope or need to hear. I don’t feel bad that my own family receives the best attention and care. I do feel bad that others don’t. And that brings me to this conclusion: Should we do our best for all people who are in tough circumstances? Of course. Whether they say thanks or not.