Tag Archives: usage

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.

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.

Bus Woes

Aren’t buses annoying? First of all, there’s that plural. The usual phonetic rules call for a double “s” in the plural, and some people do indeed write “busses.” “Buses” is more common, yet for some reason I feel slightly wrong every time I write it. Then there’s the actual bus, which never comes on time because it’s waiting for a quorum. Passengers, that’s the real reason you see four buses pull up at the same time. Unless there’s a group of four, the bus-run can’t begin. Finally, there are the silly signs both inside and outside of the vehicles. For example:







It’s worth noting that NYC city buses (except those on the airport route) don’t have luggage racks. But even if they did, are there people who need to be reminded not to climb the walls and sling a leg over a metal bar? Actually, scratch that question. This is NYC, so the answer is probably yes. I do wonder why “Luggage Rack” is capitalized. Normally, generic nouns are written in lower case. Perhaps adding capital letters makes the nonexistent item more real.

Moving on:

This one was on a tourist bus, so warning people not to slide the roof or throw packages is probably a good idea. People’s brains tend to hibernate when they’re on vacation. My favorite part of this sign is “frequencies.” I’d expect a singular there, because the time period between events varies, not the time periods. “Frequencies” makes me think of radio stations and, vaguely, astrophysics, which I can think about only vaguely because I have no actual knowledge of the subject. Also, why “approximately”? Isn’t that implied by “vary from 8 to 15 minutes”?

I used this photo in another post (http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=2159) but I can’t resist repeating it because it’s such a good example of the “bizarre bus sign” genre:







DNA. Good to know. If you want to maintain your privacy, try not to shed any cells while riding. And if you wish to explore your genetic heritage, this bus is for you. Happy riding.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Apostrophes. Sigh.

If I had my way, apostrophes would be exiled from English. My reasons are sound. Many perfectly fine languages do quite well without this punctuation mark. Plus, few people misunderstand the writer’s intended meaning just because an errant apostrophe has crashed a sentence or gone AWOL. Alas, I don’t have my way very often, and never in matters of apostrophes. Perhaps that’s why I seldom bother snapping photos of the many errors I see on signs around New York. But every once in a while, I can’t resist. This sign caught my eye yesterday:







I’m fine with an apostrophe-less “ladies,” because nouns do morph into adjectives at times (e.g. “Yankees baseball”). However, “mens” isn’t a noun. In fact, it’s not even a word. “Men” is an irregular plural, so the only legitimate term is “men’s,” the possessive form. But are the alternatives fair?  You can write “ladies’ & men’s” or “ladies and men” and claim symmetry and equality.  Yet while you might talk about “ladies tailoring” you probably wouldn’t say “men tailoring.” (The technical reason: It doesn’t sound right. Plus, who’s to say that you’re not talking about a guy waving a tape measure around?) Despite the difficulty of fashioning an apostrophe in neon, I think this sign should read  “ladies’ and men’s.”

This sign writer took a different approach:


Fairness demands that because you can have a “man cave,” you should also be able to have a “man shirt.” Working backward on the logic chain to the first sign in this post, you end up with “woman and man tailoring.” I can live with that usage. In fact, I can think of many a woman and man I wouldn’t mind tailoring to my specifications  — talks less, vacuums more, stuff like that. But strict grammarians might object.

One more for (and from) the road:


Why do people keep trying to make plurals with apostrophes? Upstate’s “hen’s” may be the “happiest,” but I bet upstate’s grammarians are pretty glum. They may even be the “unhappiest grammarian’s.”

A Fog of Words

The city is sitting in a soup of gray fog as I write this post, much like the meaning of these earnest but incomprehensible signs. First up is from a nearby market that prides itself on fair-traded, locally grown, never-met-a-chemical produce:

Whose safety?


Okay, I get that skates inside a store can lead to crashes and possible puncture wounds from organic asparagus. I can also imagine that stepping on a stray artichoke with a bare foot might lead to a deadly collision with a pile of kale or a tub of alfalfa sprouts. But why is a shirt necessary for safety? Perhaps male customers showing off the effects of all those hours with a personal trainer elicit attacks from envious (or lustful) fellow shoppers. And pets? Is the store owner assuming that your poodle, well behaved in your house and on the street, will go berserk and bite you upon seeing the dog biscuit display? What the sign ought to say, I imagine, is that the shirtless, shoeless, pet-ful and skated customers may annoy and, by a long stretch of the imagination, endanger the staff and other shoppers.

The next sign features a word that hasn’t yet made it into the Oxford English Dictionary:







The “clean up” part is clear, even without the smear of what I hope is dirt that a passerby added to a strategic spot on the sign. But what does “leash-curb” mean? Tie Fido to the sidewalk edge? Limit (curb) the length of extendable leashes? I’d support that one in a heartbeat, having tripped or leapt over many a twenty-foot tether.  My guess is that the hyphen is a comma that unwisely flattened out and floated up.

One more, for fans of beauty products:



Are the “50+ ingredients” this store “won’t sell” the appositive of “the finest ingredients” cited in the first line? I can just imagine the manager declaring that “this is the best hand cream in the world, so we don’t carry it and never will.” I’m tempted to go into the store with a list of 50+ ingredients I won’t buy.  That is, I would be tempted if I had the tiniest clue about or interest in body-care ingredients. By the way, I inserted a hyphen to link “body” to “care.” Without the hyphen, the “body” may conceivably be attached to “50+,” in which case you can’t shop here if you’re AARP-eligible.

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.