Tag Archives: ironic signs

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bad Jelly

A while ago a friend sent me a photo that perfectly captures the national mood, or so it seems to me judging by what I read in the paper:







I’m in a “gripe” mood also. So settle in with a little jelly, fellow complainers, and express your own annoyances. Here are three of mine:








It has long been my position that ‘n (intended as a contraction of “and”) is a grunt, not a word. Here it appears with double quotation marks. My advice: If you’re going to butcher a contraction, at least use the proper punctuation to do so. In this case, place an apostrophe before and after the n to indicate that a and d have been dropped.

Next gripe:












I’m a grammarian, not a mathematician, but shouldn’t “Three Cheese Mac & Cheese” be made with three types of cheese? Yet the second line specifies that the dish is “made with American and Swiss Cheese.” I checked the ingredient list, which lists no other identifiable dairy product. I thought about crossing out “three” and penciling in “two,” but I decided that customers, unlike label makers, can count.

One more:







I don’t usually bother with spelling errors, but this one I can’t ignore. Unless they’re trying to exclude everyone except Chicago and Boston baseball professionals, the word is “socks.” Second, even if the sign does refer to the White Sox and Red Sox, you don’t need the final “s.” “Sox” is a plural term. Which makes me wonder what you call a single major leaguer from one of these teams. I can’t imagine an announcer introducing “the next sock at bat.” Baseball fans, feel free to enlighten me, despite the fact that I’ve clearly eaten too much “gripe jelly.”  I think I’ll stick with plain peanut butter for a while, at least until I get my perspective back.

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.

No Time Like the Future

Does the English language have a future – tense, that is? Most grammarians keep things simple and answer yes. A few, though, see the future as an aspect of present tense, based on the fact that the verb form does not change in a sentence about what has yet to happen, as it does when, for example, “walk” turns into “walked” in a sentence about the past. To talk about the future, the main verb simply acquires “shall” or “will” — helping verbs, in this sort of analysis.

For the record, I think future tense does exist. But I’m intrigued by the philosophical implications of the other way of thinking – that the future, as we conceive it, is solely an aspect of what is happening right now. From that perspective, present actions carry more weight. Or, as thousands upon thousands of coffee mugs put it, “The past is gone. The future has yet to come. Only the present moment is real.” Or something like that.

I thought about future tense when I encountered this sign in the emergency entrance to a hospital:

Will be.









As everyone who’s ever rushed to an emergency room knows, ten minutes of terror precede five hours or so of tedium (if you’re lucky). So I had a lot of time to think about the statement that “the nursing station will be on the left.”  Why not “is”?  Why future tense? Are workers scurrying around with hammers and dry wall, constructing the nursing station as you open the door?

Eventually I realized that the sign speaks to the state of mind of the people who are reading it. Most likely they’re scared because of what’s happening in the present moment and hoping that the moments, hours, days or even years to come will be better.  No general-purpose sign can promise that everything will be all right — not in a hospital. Uncertainty is king. But the sign supplies one small concrete truth to hang onto. Follow the hallway, and the nursing station — and the help it provides — will be on the left. Not much, maybe, but in that moment, that present moment, enough to keep you going.


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.

Going to Extremes

No, I’m not talking about politics, though I certainly could find some extremes in that arena if I searched for, say, .00001 seconds. Instead, I’m thinking about the human tendency to take everything to the edges — even when those edges lie in opposite directions. Have you noticed simultaneous cut-downs and expansions?  As I walk around the city, I see an increasing number of micro cars that could transport two people and maybe one small bag of groceries. I also see fleets of giant SUVs. You could stack an entire second-grade class in one of those vehicles, assuming you’re not fussy about seatbelts. Here’s a photo encapsulating the trend:






The width of this truck stretches across the entire façade of a good-sized Manhattan high rise. The lettering is large, too. The only problem is that the last letter doesn’t fit — assuming, of course, that this isn’t a mobile ballet studio, but rather a “Crate & Barrel” delivery van.

I also hear the same tendency when shoppers are summoned to the cash register. I wrote in an earlier post (“Following Guest” http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=187 ) about turning customers into “guests,” and now this phrase has accelerated into the extended “Following Shoe Lover” and the contracted “Following” at adjacent stores. I asked the “Following Shoe Lover” employee how she had decided on that phrase, knowing, of course, that she hadn’t decided at all. “They tell us to say that,” she admitted sheepishly. I imagine that many of her customers, like me, don’t love shoes; they simply need them. But announcing “Following Shoe Needer,” however accurate, isn’t fashionable in the post-fact era.

It’s enough to make me nostalgic for the days when clerks bellowed “NEXT!”