Tag Archives: grammar

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.

Beware!

As if you didn’t already have enough to worry about, along come a few more things to up your angst level. Take this sign, for example, posted on a construction site near Wall Street:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here you thought it was enough to educate your kids about sex, drugs, and Internet chat rooms. Hah! Even if you’re far, far away from downtown Manhattan and have no plans to go there, you’re remiss if you don’t sit down with your offspring and explain “the dangers of trespassing on this site” – not the perils of wandering around other sites full of heavy machinery and gaping holes, but definitely this one. Hear that, Tahitians, Alaskans, and  Antarcticans? Tonight, after homework check and before toothbrushing, do your duty.

I confess I still don’t understand what this sign alerts me to, and that fact worries me even more:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are we talking plutonium here? (And if so, wouldn’t it be “radioactive”?) Sparkling pipes in  cement that can distract you and make you fall flat on your nose? Maybe a Keith Haring drawing of his trademark “radiant child,” formed from neon tubes? You wouldn’t want to walk over a modern masterpiece. Besides,  the two exclamation points imply that radiant tubing is nothing to fool around with. You may suffer unknown consequences if you don’t “beware.” (Make that “beware!”).

I do “beware,” but for safety’s sake I’m not limiting my caution to radiant tubing and construction zones. Here’s my slogan: “Beware of Everything.” Try it. You’ll feel a little anxious, but you’ll be much safer.

Grade: D+

I wrote an earlier post (http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=1012) about a luncheonette interested in hiring a “grilled man” for food prep:

Grilled and Deli Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somehow it took the shop owners a long time to find someone suitable. I can’t imagine why.  I also can’t imagine why adding a D where it doesn’t belong is a growing trend. Check out this restaurant’s boast:

 

 

 

I know reality television shows are popular, but I had no idea that food “lived” on television. Do they lock the veggies and chops in a house and film clashes between them? Or drop them in a picturesque spot and vote a certain number of calories off the island each week? I assume the signwriter intended to say “live,” as in “happening now.” But doesn’t the fact that this sign’s been around for months invalidate the whole concept? I stopped in anyway; lunch was delicious.

Another stray D wandered into this sign:

 

Okay, I can see “specializing” or “specialists.” But “specialized”? The past participle “specialized” implies that the employees used to focus on “hand cleaning & theatrical costumes”  but now have a broader range. Or, they dropped out of the field entirely. And then there’s “hand cleaning.” Don’t most people take care of that chore themselves? Despite the fact that this is a city where many people have breakfast, lunch, and dinner delivered, not to mention laundry and just about every other human need, you’d think hand cleaning would be an in-house job, even if not a personal one. I also note that the cleaners work “on” their “own plants.” Are we talking begonias here? Factories? I’ll figure that one out later. Someone’s coming over now to clean my hands.

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.

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.