Tag Archives: commas

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.”

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.

“Punctuation”; Puzzles.

The title looks strange — on purpose — and it’s no stranger than the random addition or removal of periods, commas, and quotation marks in NYC’s signs. I wrote about the placement of periods in “Stop Full Stop” (http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=1364). In this post I expand on the puzzles of punctuation. First up is this photo, which my friend Erica Berenstein sent me:

Can you spot the period?

Can you spot the period?









Reluctantly leaving aside the issue of capital letters, I can’t figure out the marketing advantage of placing a period after “dream” and nowhere else. True, the list separates the clauses (subject-verb pairs), but then why place any periods at all in this ad?

Microsoft takes a different approach to punctuation, as you see in these messages that popped up on my screen during a recent update:

And the comma is there because . . .?

And the comma is there because . . .?


The first part of the statement seems to be a shortened form of “we are getting things ready,” an independent clause. But if that’s the intended construction, the rules of Standard English don’t allow you to attach the first independent clause to the second (“Please don’t turn off your PC”) with a comma. Another possible interpretation is that “getting things ready” is an introductory participle, in which case the participle should modify the subject of the following clause. The problem with this explanation is that the subject of “please don’t turn off your PC” is an implied “you.” But “you” aren’t getting things ready. Microsoft is, or so it claims. By the way, there’s a period missing after “PC.” With such attention to detail, the upgrade promises to be buggy at best.

Here’s another Microsoft gem:




Okay, the words make sense, and the sentence begins with a capital letter. It ends with . . . nothing. No period. No exclamation point. Not even a question mark, which, given the state of internet security these days, would be more than appropriate.

Last one. Can anyone find a reason for these quotation marks?









I’m stumped. Feel free to send in your theories, properly punctuated, of course!