Tag Archives: English

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 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.

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.





Stop full stop.

I’m not against periods, the punctuation mark the British call “full stops.” But everything has its place. Traditionally, periods appear at the end of sentences that make statements or give commands. They’re also used in abbreviations. Lately, though, periods have been popping up in odd positions, as in this sign in front of a coffee shop:

And the period is there because?

Why is there a period after “birch”?









The shop’s name is “Birch” — I think. It may be “Birch.” Or is it “Birch. coffee”? And why is the period there at all? Is it supposed to add authority or emphasis? Perhaps the store owner wanted to give a sense of completion, as in “sip your latte here and your life will be complete.” The only thing I know for sure is that the punctuation mark doesn’t indicate a command. (“Hey you! Birch now or face the consequences!) Nor does it end a statement, because there is no statement.

I expect strange things from retailers, but somehow I thought that religious institutions, with help from the Almighty, would do better. At least I thought so until I spied this sign:

This church needs heavenly punctuation guidance.

This church needs heavenly punctuation guidance.


True, this sign contains more words than the café sign, but they don’t form a sentence. The church indeed appears to be “warm, welcoming and beautiful,” but not grammatical.

Nor can you count on the banking system to come to a full stop (in punctuation or in finance):

Two nonsensical, non-sentences appear in one sign.

Two nonsensical, non-sentences appear in one sign.









I don’t expect “pleasure” from my bank. Do you? The “2% cash back” sounds great — but 2% of what? And back to whom? I can’t blame the Great Recession on faulty punctuation, but a lack of clarity in bank communications appears in both. Just saying.

My advice: For a period of time, let’s agree to put a stop to unnecessary full stops. Then we can  decide whether to give this punctuation mark additional duties. That is, “Extra. Duties.”

The Price Is (Maybe) Right

Some luxury marketers brag that if you have to ask how much something costs, you can’t afford to buy it. But we non-one-percenters do need to know how much of our hard-earned money we’re plunking down. Which question is hard to answer, if you rely on signs like these:

Any 1/2 hours?

Any 1/2 hours?









How much do you pay to park here, not counting tax? If this were a math problem on the SAT, your choices might be (A) $4.22 for the whole day (B) $4.22 for a half hour (C) $4.22 for some unspecified number of half hours or (D) any of the above, depending upon how well you tip the parking attendant at holiday time. I’d probably go for (D), realistic New Yorker that I am, but (B) is not out of the question. But how can a driver figure out the price while whizzing past this parking lot, eyes (hopefully) on pedestrians, other cars, and bicycles?

Car parked, you may want to eat a little something. Specifically, six inches of something:

Six inches of what?

Six inches of what?

This sign hangs in the window of a sandwich shop, so I guess you’re paying for a “six-inch” roll, with one of six designated fillings. But if it’s a meal, do you also get six inches of beverage? If so, is the liquid in a narrow test tube or in a broad-mouthed beer stein? I’m hoping for dessert, too. Maybe a six-inch éclair.

One more:

Those two-letter words will get you every time.

My favorite word is now OT.









I don’t usually bother posting spelling mistakes (too easy a target), but it’s not often I find a misspelled two-letter word. I imagine that “OT” should be “TO.” Even after you adjust the spelling, though, you have to wonder whether the rent is “up ot” half off. After all, the sign specifies “EVERYTHING,” so you can make a case for false advertising if rent is not discounted too.

The moral of this story: Buyer beware!




Extra! Read all about it all!

As a teacher I read many three-page essays that were buried inside six pages of typing. I tend to be ruthless in deleting unneeded words. I do not edit signs, though, because (a) graffiti is against the law and (b) it’s more fun to mock what’s there. For example:

Darn. I like my leather renewed like old.

Renew like new.


Darn. I like my leather jacket renewed “like old.”  Well, I would if I had one, and I don’t. Here’s another:


Recycling what?

Recycling what?


How can you recycle something that hasn’t been “used” already? Also, is “this establishment” recycling “cooking oil” or “services”? And how exactly do you recycle a service? Inquiring minds want to know.

Now for the animal kingdom:

Aren't dogs pets?

Pet dogs?









From this sign, I gather that wild dogs are welcome in this store, as are other animals people keep as pets – cats, rabbits . . . maybe even boa constrictors. But if you have a pet that is a dog, you have to leave Fido at home when you shop.

Not that every repetition is wrong. I love this sign, which appears on the door of a restaurant that caught fire a few weeks ago. I am ignoring the grammar errors, though I acknowledge that “roofer’s” shouldn’t have an apostrophe and “electrician” should be “electricians.” A couple of periods would be nice, too. But the wordplay is just plain fun:

Electrifying electricians.

Electrifying electricians.









That’s it for today. Feel free to find unnecessary words in this post and mock me as much as you like.

Short takes

No lengthy discussion today. These signs speak for themselves. True, they speak gibberish, but they do speak.

First up is a photo my friend Jacqueline sent me:

What brand is your kid?

What brand is your kid?









Ignoring the pretty important fact that baby-selling is illegal, I’m surprised that babies are branded. If you purchase one, does the kid come with a little logo?

Here’s another puzzler:

With what?

Look younger with what?

So you wear the spa, accessorized with pearls?  That would be quite a fashion ensemble! And do you have to have the spa custom-fitted?

One more for today:

If you're disorganized, go for it.

Define “organized.”









If you’re completely disorganized (and just about every kids’ sport I’ve seen falls into that category, as do the Yankees at times), you’re fine. If you’re organized, go somewhere else.

Maybe somewhere with signs that make sense.

Deer Equals Phone?

I thought I’d seen it all, grammatically speaking, until I read an interview with Phil Schiller, the marketing tsar for Apple’s empire. If you think you have several iPhones, according to Schiller, you’re wrong. You have several iPhone (or iPad or iPod). Schiller likened the products’ names to the words “deer” and “clothes,” which, he said, can each be both singular and plural.

Good to know. And good luck with changing people’s habit of referring to the “iPads” on display in an Apple Store. If I were Schiller, I’d worry more about misappropriation of the lowercase letter i, which you see in this clever (but probably trademark infringing) sign:

Does Apple know?

Does Apple know?

I ( i ?) should point out that no one ever talks about one eyelash, except when referring to an errant hair falling into an eye. In this sign, though, “iLash” is a modifier of the noun “salon,” so the singular makes sense. (Sort of. Does anyone actually need a salon for eyelashes, or iLashes, or iLash?) Plus, following Schiller’s edict, “iLash” can be plural. Would Schiller say that this sign may be singular, or does his rule apply only to the lowercase letter  i ?


One eyebrows.

One eyebrows.









And here I thought that the singular form for this feature was “unibrow.”

If Schiller prevails, these two signs will be correct:

How many?

How many?



How many "cent"?

How many “cent”?


I guess I should celebrate the “s” on “wings,” which, I’m happy to say, aren’t “iWings.” Yet. And I should note that Apple’s marketing materials do add “s” to their product names. The interview didn’t take place on April 1st, but Schiller may have been fooling around anyway. Time, or times, will tell.

Live from NY, it’s Mother Nature!

New Yorkers tend to see nature as something you beat into submission by (a) covering it with concrete or (b) manicuring it so that any semblance to actual greenery and wildlife is accidental. My favorite moment during a recent blizzard took place outside Eli’s, a fashionable (and expensive) food store on the Upper East Side. A store employee was loading plastic-wrapped logs into a taxi, presumably so their new owner  — who was wearing high heels! in the snow! — could keep warm. Roughing it, New York style.

But I digress. This post is about signs in Central Park, Manhattan’s closest brush with nature. The first appeared near a large open space dotted with some tufts of . . . well, some tufts. (I’m a New Yorker. Don’t ask me to identify plants.)

Renovation: Not just for houses anymore.

Renovation: Not just for houses anymore.









I can envision “reseeding,” “rehabilitation,” or even “new sod.” But “renovation”? Nor was I aware that a lawn could be “closed.” The day I snapped this photo, the sparrow population of the area hadn’t gotten the message.

Logically, anything that’s closed can open. Hence this sign:

How do you open a lawn?

Unzip  each blade of grass . . .









Even the animal kingdom is subject to New Yorkers’ orders:

Noisy turtles, beware.

Noisy turtles, beware.


Good to know that, as in Amtrak’s quiet cars, no one around this pond will be distracted by turtles talking on cell phones or playing loud music. Now if we could just get the snapping turtles to tone it down a little . . .


Massage Tips

The rise of e-tailing has led to the decline of brick-and-mortar retailers. But personal services can’t easily by sent via UPS (or drone, for that matter). You can’t have a haircut delivered to your apartment, though you may — if you’re financially fortunate — have the haircutter arrive at your door for a few quick snips. Fortunately for bloggers like me, personal-service shops abound in NYC, and their signs are as loopy as any other sort, outclassed only by everything composed by the city’s Department of Transportation.

Shop owners who knead body parts for a living may be great at their chosen task, but they’re not necessarily good at advertising. Recently I saw this disturbing claim:


If your front-foot is sore, you’re out of luck.


This sign would be fine (though perhaps not effective) had it appeared in a vet’s office or a dog spa. But it’s in a salon devoted to bipeds. Grammar note: The hyphen creates a single adjective, a description of the noun “massage.” In this case “back-foot” implies a lead (front-foot) and a follower (back-foot).  I wonder whether a person’s back- and front-feet correspond to their dominant hands. But that is a question for scientists, not grammarians.

Here’s another variation:

What rub?

What kind of rub?









Now there’s no hyphen, just an artistic slant that leaves the meaning floating somewhere over the Land of Confusion . Maybe “back or foot rub”? Or “back and foot rub”? Personally, I like to know which body parts are involved before plunking down my cash.

The moral of this post:

Tips appreciated.

Tips appreciated.









Not a gem of clarity either (“waxing massage”? “facial tips”? “waxing facial”? “massage tips”?), but, dreamer that I am, I choose to believe this sign refers to a veteran masseuse, eager to impart wisdom garnered over decades to newcomers to the profession.

Maybe even a few tips about hyphens.