Tag Archives: English idioms

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 That seems to rely on outdated stereotypes.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.

.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.

Last to come, first to go

A friend recently reminded me that prepositions are the “last to come and first to go” in language learning or retention. As someone who’s often placed a “por” where a “para” should be while speaking Spanish, I agree. Which leads me to the conclusion that the people creating these signs are still on their way toward mastery of English. An example from a tailor:

Note the poinsettia in the background, which presumably enjoys regular pruning and an occasional nip of fertilizer. After all, this shop brags about “all work done on our plant.” If the poinsettia isn’t the point, the preposition “on” should be “in” or “at,” explaining that the work (whatever it  might be) isn’t contracted out but performed by the business itself in a factory — “our plant.”

Sometimes an “on” is present where it shouldn’t be and absent where it should be:

According to the dictionary, “premises” are buildings and the land they stand on. The conventions of English allow you to be “on” land and “in” a building. The preposition, therefore, should be a toss-up, and both “on” and “in” should work. But that’s not the case.  I can’t  come up with a reason why “in these premises” sounds odd. “On” fits better here. It just does.

And now a sign from a photography studio:

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In to” or “into”?  “Into,”  with logic behind the choice. The single word “into” shows insertion, which is what the sign warns against. The two-word version implies separate actions, going “in” and then “to” some particular place: “Go in to your friend and apologize,” said Mary standing on the lawn and pointing to the house.

One more:

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can’t have “business with” a property, because “with,” to my mind, implies a person dealing with whoever enters the service entrance. I imagine that the sign should read “on the property.” But who knows? The US Supreme Court ruled in the “Citizens United” that corporations are people, too. Maybe “with” actually fits this context.

Feel free to get in touch with, at, to, by, or for me if you have other ideas.

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.”

 

Misteaks Were Made

NYU, not you too! I took a noncredit course there recently, but the quality of the content and discussion sadly did not match this letter sent from New York University’s administration. Take a look:

If I “continuously check” my schedule, I’m on the ALBERT website 24/7. Is that what you demand of me, NYU? I’m interested in learning, but I have to protect my eyeballs. Now if you’d asked me to check my schedule “continually,” I could log on from time to time to see what’s new.

If I didn’t find proper usage at a university, why was I expecting correct spelling in a sign? Usually I resign myself to four or five errors per walk, and I normally don’t bother posting misspelled words. But this one’s an exception:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seen in a paint store so high-end that its rear touches the sky, the sign attempts to match vocabulary level to price. Notice “formulation” instead of “formula,” “master craftsman” (just one guy does it all), and “curated collection.” I’ve already written about the trend toward “curation” instead of, say, “selection” in a post entitled “Curation Nation” at http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=1576, so I won’t bother snarking about that part of the sign. But if you’re paying top dollar for small batches in formulations by a master craftsman in a curated collection, shouldn’t somebody spell “intricately” right? Indeed, as I tried to type “intracately” just now, autocorrect kicked in. It’s actually hard to make a mistake with that word, but I guess if you’re on the “master” level, you can manage.

Next one is a sentence from a mystery novel:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m assuming the author meant “preyed.” As a writer myself, I know that errors endure no matter how many times I proofread. I also know that a few make it past the editor’s scrutiny. I’m posting this as a reminder to myself to be more careful. Which brings me to this headline in the NY Times:

 

 

I wanted to mock the Times for the circle of logic represented by “Failing to Succeed.” After all, what else could you fail at? But on the fourth or fifth reading (yes, I’m a little slow sometimes), I grasped the point. You can’t win outright, so you may as well compromise. This one is clever, not wrong. So in the spirit of compromise, I’ll continuously try to fail at success, pray on all wildlife (who could use a little help from heaven), and consider repainting the living room with a curated color.

Well, maybe not the curated paint. I have to have some standards, and I’m drawing the line at “intracate.”

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.