Tag Archives: English usage

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.”

 

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.

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.”

Punctuation Problems

And the award for good punctuation goes to . . . none of these signs. Why? Well, take a look.

The first comes from a fence around a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. (Yes, this blog is about language in New York City, but even a grammarian needs a vacation from time to time.)  Where would you add punctuation?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this direct address? Are the mansion-owners calling me (or any other sightseer) a “bad dog”? And who’s being ordered to “keep off fence” — the property or the dog? I don’t know. I do know that there are no bad dogs, just bad sign-writers.

Another muddle for you to solve:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I assume the contractor didn’t have time to add punctuation marks to this notice.  Too bad, because you can punctuate it this way:

Construction zone? No.

Access permitted.

Authorized personnel only permitted beyond this point.

Hear that, authorized personnel? There’s no building going on here. Wait behind the barricade until we call you. Regular people, feel free to walk wherever you like.

This one needs more than punctuation:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, I didn’t add the duct tape. I resisted the temptation to peel it off to see what was underneath. Maybe it said “keep right” or “keep left”? Theories welcome.

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.

No parking in Oregon, and other absurdities

New Yorker that I am, I don’t often think about compass directions. I go uptown or downtown, and to the East or West Side. So this sign caught my attention as I walked around Seattle last week:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first impulse was to check the position of the sun and try to determine where, exactly, south was. I located the sun easily enough, but I’m staying in a house with a two-month-old. Was it morning or afternoon? I didn’t know. Nor did landmarks help, because my knowledge of Seattle geography is hazy at best. Next I looked at parking patterns. The sign was close to a corner;  only a micro-car could squeeze into the bit of curb in front of the sign. That direction was probably not south. Behind the sign were maybe fifty parked cars.  Law-abiding Seattlites are unlikely to flout parking rules in such large numbers, I reasoned — no south there, either. At last I figured out the true meaning. Listen up, Oregonians! Pay attention, Californians! You need to head north for parking. As I pondered the meaning of the sign, by the way, I decided it was fortunate I wasn’t driving a car at the time. I might have hit the tree while decoding.

And while I’m on the topic of absurdities — and I am — here’s a ticket stub from a play I saw recently:

 

 

I don’t mind paying for the ticket, and I’m semi-okay with the service charge. But paying a fee for a fee is going too far, in the same category as a charge for “shipping and handling” when I’m standing at a box office, holding my hand out for the ticket, which the cashier places on my palm. Why is that “shipping and handling”? At Madison Square Garden, it is.

One more:

Isn’t the very definition of “crime” something that is “punishable by law”? What else would it be, a crime rewarded by free ice cream cones?

It’s July 4th, America’s day to celebrate our independence — which apparently includes the right to hang silly signs and impose ridiculous fee fees. Enjoy your barbecue and your right to express yourself, absurdly or not.

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.