Tag Archives: silly signs


Poet T. S. Eliot called April “the cruelest month,” but he was wrong. It’s definitely February. The holidays are over and spring feels far, far away. Plus, the month is almost impossible to spell correctly. And sometimes it has an extra day! To cheer myself up as February staggers to its end, I snapped these photos of silly signage. I hope they make you smile.

First, a store-closing notice:

“Bitter cold summers, sweltering summers.” Huh. I’ve lived in New York City all my life, and I don’t remember any “bitter cold” July or August days. This store went out of business because, I suspect, the lease the owners signed was checked as carefully as the text of this message.

To defend yourself against “bitter cold summers,” you might try working out:







Pilates, fine. But the other part? We’ve all got “privates” — and I don’t mean the military sort —  so I don’t see a need to purchase any.

This one, for reasons known only to my phone’s camera, is rather small, but I’m posting it anyway because . . . well, you’ll see:




In case you can’t read it, the sign says: “self dog wash instructions.” Where do I start? How about here: It’s reasonable to assume that Fido doesn’t know how to lather up and rinse thoroughly without instructions, but if you assume that, you have to assume that Fido can’t read either.

One more:







In case you’re craving a bit of jerky or a nice bone, you know where to go. Enjoy!

A Valentine for You

I’ll keep this short and sweet for Valentine’s Day because you’re probably too busy (1) hugging your sweetheart or  (2) wishing you had a sweetheart or (3) marketing to sweethearts.  Which is what this store attempts:







I’m awarding a D- grade to the person who typed this sign, especially the last line. (“Your love one”? Really?) I’m also giving a D- to anyone who thinks caviar is a better Valentine’s present than chocolate. Or roses. Or even a trip to a fast-food place without kids, cats, or in-laws in tow. I mean, caviar is fish eggs, right? Don’t expect an “A+” from me for fish eggs! But I’m a grammarian, not a gourmet, so if “your love one” likes fish eggs, go for it. Just don’t call the gift “your caviar.” You’re a sweetheart, not a sturgeon.

Time to Drop Out

Scientists tell us that communication is key to human nature, but they’re just stating what is obvious to every person who ever lived. And speaking of obvious, this sign easily reaches overkill territory:







“Pick Up/Drop Off Only”? Someone from the bus company thought it necessary to tell us that. Because otherwise customers might think that the curb near this sign is handy for, I don’t know, a shower and a shave or maybe a vacation rental. 

Short digression: It occurs to me that I’ve posted a lot about buses lately:  signs announcing in-bus DNA testing and banning luggage-rack climbing, for example (http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=2240). Maybe it’s the crazy and at times infuriating nature of this form of transportation that brings out the worst in people — and not just in New York City. When I typed the Spanish word for “bus stop” during a recent trip to Madrid, my phone’s autocorrect kept trying to attach a rather strong curse word to “autobus.”

And then there’s this one, from the window of a dry-cleaner:








The moment I saw this sign, I wondered why anyone would “only drop off” clothes. Don’t customers want their stuff back? Apparently yes, as the store is now out of business. Instead of dropping off my good clothes (and saying goodbye to them) at this shop, I must now go to a different dry-cleaner. Maybe here:

No word about pick up, but at least the blazers and slacks I drop off will be “well looked after” while they’re away from home. Or in their new homes. Whatever. I’m dropping out of this discussion.

It Takes Two . . . to Confuse

How much can you communicate in just two words? And how much confusion can you create with two words? The answer to both questions: quite a bit. Check out this sign, which my friend Catherine found in a subway station:

“Rescue Assistance”? Is this where EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders go for help? Or does the NYCTA  envision rescues that need a little extra oomph? NYCTA, by the way, is the agency that runs the subways, “run” being applicable only when the trains are actually moving, which, as riders know, isn’t all that often these days. And what’s with the wheelchair icon? Do subway officials think only wheelchair users need “rescue assistance”? If so, they’re not paying attention. First of all, plenty of riders walking around on two feet need “rescue” or “assistance.” (I can’t be sure that they need “rescue assistance” because I don’t know what that phrase means.) Second, in a subway system more than a century old, elevators and other sorts of accommodations for wheelchair users are few and far between. I can count on the fingers of half a hand how many wheelchairs I’ve seen in a subway. Maybe a quarter of a hand. A fifth? Okay, never.

Moving on:







This sign reminds me of a scene in a Simpsons episode when Bart is working on his science project. He stares at a spud and writes something like: “Four o’clock. Still a potato.” I did “watch ice” at this spot for about fifteen minutes. It stayed there, being ice. I got cold and moved on.

And then there’s this one, which I spotted in Madrid. It’s in Spanish, but I think the meaning — the literal one, anyway — is easy to grasp:








I admit that poetry and psychoanalysis are related. I’m just wondering about logistics. Does the therapist have the patient recite poetry and interpret it? Then there’s insurance coverage. How does one file a claim for a sonnet?

These two-word dilemmas may drive me to buy something at this store, depicted in a photo snapped by my friend Kelly:

Whoever sent the text to the sign manufacturer had clearly imbibed some “sprits” first. Memo to owner: Proofread before you hang an awning. Memo to self: Stay away from the liquor cabinet before blogging.

They Should Know Better, Part 2

In the previous post I lamented (okay, mocked) errors made by major corporations and my favorite newspaper, The New York Times. Sadly, I have more than enough material for a second post on the same topic. Check out this sign, which did NOT appear in a hair salon or wig store:







This sign is fine if the intent is to ban the passing of hair clumps, shining though the tresses may be. But I suspect the intended meaning is that the couple with the dog must stay away. Or maybe they’re the only ones allowed? It’s worth noting that this sign is made of enamel over metal. If you’re going to all that trouble, a moment with spell-check would seem appropriate.

Moving on to a passage from a novel, as it appears on my Kindle:







“Phased”? Pardon me a moment while I grind my teeth. “Phase” as a verb means “introduce in gradual stages.” The verb “faze,” on the other hand, means “to daunt or disturb.”  This book was professionally edited (presumably) before being sold by a major publisher. And yes, this book may be categorized as junk-food reading, which I admit I indulge in, but I expect literacy all the same.

And then there’s this statement from the NY Times:

Huh? I read this several times before guessing that the hyphenated element means “present.” I question that hyphenation, but even if it were correct, “who’s who in-house” is awkward and confusing. The newspaper of record shouldn’t require repeated reading to reveal meaning.

Last one, also from the Times:







I paused at “web vertical.” Before I unleashed my scorn I looked up “vertical” and got all the meanings I expected (“upright,” “perpendicular to the horizon,” and similar definitions). But then I checked “web vertical” and discovered that a website covering one topic in depth is “vertical.” “Horizontal” sites cover many topics briefly. So this time the joke was on me. I read quite a bit about technology, and I should have known better.

They Should Know Better

When I read hand-lettered signs in small stores, I readily accept a certain number of mistakes from proprietors who, I presume, are too busy to proofread because they have to order stock, supervise employees, and fill out tax forms. But when major companies are involved, my expectations rise. Obviously I’m courting disappointment, because Those Who Should Know Better often don’t. Witness this advertisement from a nationwide cosmetics chain:

As a verb, “gift” strikes me as a bit pretentious, but it’s not incorrect. The direct object, though, is another issue entirely. The sign urges you to “gift” people. Human trafficking, anyone? Please say no, even if you have a few relatives you wouldn’t mind “gifting” to someone willing to take them far, far away from your holiday gatherings.

And then there’s the phone company. I won’t tell you which one; I imagine it’s easy to find horror stories about all of them. I had to visit and call the one responsible for this ad no fewer than eight times before I succeeded in canceling my late husband’s phone contract. Check out this recruitment pitch:







If they can’t come up with the proper contraction (“you’re,” not “your”), how can they “practice data story-telling, analytics, and more”? And while I’m on the subject, do we actually want “data story-telling”? Can’t we manage with “data” alone, leaving “story-telling” to fiction writers?

I count on good grammar when I read my favorite newspaper, The New York Times, and usually that’s what I get. Every once in a while, though, the editors miss something. Perhaps the excitement surrounding Amazon’s search for new office space overpowered this writer:







I wouldn’t mind “500,000 square foot modern of office space,” if I could figure out what it is.

One more, from a chain restaurant:







I’ve always wanted to try the wings at this restaurant, but I’ll pass on the “sloo smoked BBQ.” I’ve never liked the taste of “sloo.”

Planes, But No Trains or Automobiles

I’ve spent way too much time in airports lately, but my time loss is Grammarian-in-the-City’s gain, because those hours yielded some interesting material for this blog.

First up is a sign in JFK Airport that I stared at for what seemed like hours (because it actually was hours — the plane was late):

Good advice. I hate collaborating alone.

Moving on, I saw this advertisement in Madrid’s Barajas Airport:







I’m not sure what a “deli flight” is, but I’m certain that I didn’t have one. I’m pretty sure I don’t want one, either.

Speaking of Barajas, the map of stores and other amenities in Terminal 4 included this item:

The number 15 corresponds to a spot on the map (I think), so that’s one mystery solved. I never did find the “Hour Passion” store to see what it was selling. I’m not sure I want to know.

My ideal airport would let me get in, get on, and get out as quickly as possible. Too bad that ideal never becomes remotely real. If you’re flying during the holidays, good luck!  Feel free to send me any interesting signs you encounter.

Practice What You Pre-ach

The prefix pre- is a useful little syllable that means “before” — a fact that makes this sign, which appeared on the window of a new store, particularly confusing:







I’m assuming that “Pre Open” means the store hasn’t had an official grand opening with flags, pop-ups on social media, and token gifts for customers. “Liquidation” is what stores do when they turn all their assets into cash prior to going out of business. So this sign means that the store is (a) not yet open and (b) preparing to close forever. If you want to buy anything here, you have to jump right on the line between existence and nonexistence.

Here’s another mangled  pre- sign:







Huh? This sales pitch is the equivalent of “Hurry in! Today’s $50 trinket will be $25 tomorrow! Take advantage of our “pre sale” and lose money!” Who could resist that offer?

Taking a break from writing this post, I checked Facebook, which told me that this blog had drawn “ten new previews” since the last time I looked. I know from the weekly stats Facebook sends me that Grammarian in the City gets twice as many “previews” as views. What I don’t know is the Facebook definition of preview. Someone takes a quick look and decides nope, not for me? But isn’t that a view? Anyone out there who knows, please share the knowledge.

All this talk about pre- makes me ponder post-, a prefix meaning “after.” When it’s not in that role, post shows up as a noun meaning “letters that come in the mail,” “a job,” or “an upright building support,” among other definitions. The derivations are different, but it’s tempting to think those words arose from the assumption that mail is always late, as are workers and contractors. Not to mention bloggers, whose posts appear several days after their intended publication date. Yes, I’m in that tardy group, as I’d planned to publish this post last Wednesday. My pre-New Year’s resolution is not to postpone posts. Preview this page frequently to see whether I keep my resolution.

The Next Logical Question

A challenge of writing is to distinguish between what’s in the mind and what’s on the page, or, in the case of this blog post, on the sign. No doubt these sign writers thought they were expressing themselves perfectly, but each left me with at least one unanswered question. For example:









Unanswered Question: What do the “gas leaks” say?

I should note that a little punctuation would have gone a long way. A question mark after “leaks” and a period or exclamation point after “us” would do nicely here. On the other hand, clarity may be overrated. I did spend an enjoyable quarter hour thinking up possible dialogue:

COMPANY: Good morning. How may I help you?

GAS LEAK: Hiss …sss … sss.

Longer but not clearer is this one:









Unanswered Questions: Why do “pearls” (plural) outnumber “diamond” (singular)? And does the shop really grind up precious gems? Most important: Does anyone working in this shop actually know what these facials are?

Once again I’m struck by the number of nonsense words employed by the “beauty” industry. I read a Sunday NY Times feature on skin and hair care for several weeks before I realized that it was not, in fact, a parody. Moving on:









Unanswered Questions: How many passengers need a DNA Kit? Can’t they check their genetic heritage at home? Does the transit authority seriously believe that a robber will stand still long enough for a cheek swab?

The difference between “may be” and “is” seems significant, but I can’t quite figure out why. My best guess is that the MTA wants you to know that they are not necessarily watching but they are always ready to roll when it comes to your genes. Last one:

Unanswered Question: What happened to the candlestick maker?

I did toy with the idea that the “butcher” chops up a “prime” number — not into factors, but maybe into pieces, like severing the top circle of an eight from the bottom. That interpretation leaves out the “baker,” who may bake less than prime quality bread and cake. Perhaps that’s why the candlestick maker quit.

Sspeling Erorrs

I don’t usually bother with spelling mistakes, but when they appear on expensively produced ads, it seems to me that someone should have proofread before printing. Or before handing the finished product over to the customer. Or, at the very least, before hanging the sign on a store window, truck, or sandwich board.

Whether to double a letter or not seems to attract (atract?) errors like iron filings to a magnet (fillings to a magnett?):


Does this shop offer feline treats (mice, catnip, permission to snooze on a sofa that’s usually off-limits)? Or does the store host gossip fests, where guests can be as catty as they please?

Maybe the shop that does “cattering” should lend one of its Ts to this food cart:









I leave aside the issue of eating lunch at 10 AM or 4 PM, given that New York is the city that never sleeps and meals roam around the clock dial like sleepwalkers in a kitchen. Nor will I focus on the random capital letters, though I can’t help wondering whether lunch Time is supposed to reflect the eternal nature and importance of Time or whether the expression refers to a magazine. Instead I’ll confine myself to the meaning of the first line. Is the food cart offering to have the employee in charge of placing rice on the plate accompany you while you eat? And is Free Can Soda a call to action? I do like that sm matches content to form. The abbreviation sm is indeed small.

I don’t want you to think that whether to double the letter T is the only problem out there. S comes with stress in these signs:
















Had I a marker and not an aversion to graffiti, I’d remove the extra S from “tresspassingin the second sign and add it to kind in the first. While wondering whether the second sign banned a hair-exchange app, I’d also delete the extra f from proffessional  or get rid of the word entirely. I mean, who else works in a tailor shop? Amateurs? Hobbyists? Not for those prices they don’t.

Now if only these stores would shell out a little cash for some proffessionnall prooffrreadding.