I saw this message displayed on a programmable sign over a highway, prefaced by the notation “Georgia Law”.
Obviously, the message is
Turn on [your] headlights when [it is] raining.
The intent is clear, but the syntax is awful.
Syntactically, the implied subject of both the verbs “turn” and “rain” is “you”, so technically the sentence means:
Turn on [your] headlights when [you are] raining.
I don’t have any particular suggestion for how to “improve” the sign. Signs aren’t written in normal syntax because of space constraints, so any alternate version would have to be really short. Writing “If it is raining, turn on your headlights” is obviously longer and not obviously better, because even when space is not limited, we expect signs to be written in a terse style that lacks pronouns.
Ah well. Pronouns in English are problematic anyway.
If you’ve never heard of Mad Libs, it’s basically a kind of kids’ activity book that helps you create silly stories. The booklet asks for examples of different kinds of words (parts of speech like “adjective” or more specific kinds of words like “color”). The words will be used in a specially written story, but you don’t know exactly how they will be used. After all the words have been written down, you copy them into the story and read it aloud to see how it sounds.
Every once in a while, I tell someone the story of the time my mom and I did a Mad Libs story that made us laugh like crazy. In fact, there’s already a blog post about it. See below for more on that story, which I rediscovered on my recent trip to Atlanta.
Continue reading Best Mad Libs story ever!
This package of Japanese Kyuri from Malaysia says:
Rich in nutrients, Cucumber are excellent in salads, sandwiches, stir-fry and sushi.
Here, the fact that the singular is being treated like a plural makes it sound as if cucumbers are exotic animals like bison or buffalo.
Recently, though I don’t have a photo, I saw a sign in front of some model planes (in the Tin Tin shop strangely located on Pagoda St in Chinatown) that was advertising “aircrafts for sale”. Ack. No.
For a variety of historical reasons, English has many kinds of nouns that are annoyingly difficult to pluralize, and Wikipedia helpfully lists them.
Interestingly, the cucumber package shows ‘salads’, ‘sandwiches’, ‘stir-fry’, and ‘sushi’ all in the correct form, even though ‘salad’ requires an ‘s’, ‘sandwich’ requires ‘es’, and ‘stir-fry’ and ‘sushi’ are uncountable.
Why, then, was it so hard to give ‘cucumber’ its plural ‘s’?
And why is it capitalized?!
When my husband took me to a squinchy Japanese restaurant that had high chairs at a bar-style counter, the server laconically instructed me to put my bag “downstairs”, which meant “on the shelf under the seat of the chair”.
I have heard English teachers eager to hold students accountable for their spoken language deride this common Singlish use of “downstairs”, but it’s wonderful (and typical) in its succinctness.
If you use the preposition “under”, you have to include a noun for the preposition to be, well, positioned in front of. If you use the adverb “downstairs”, you’re just saying something needs to go below something else, and letting context do the work of indicating what the something else is.
Chinese has a phrase approximately meaning “down side” which can be used the way the server was using “downstairs” to adverbially indicate “under something”. It also has phrases meaning “up side”, “behind side”, “opposite side”, etc., and you can say “located opposite side” without needing to say “located opposite the hotel”, for example, the way we can say in English that “the receipt is in the bag” or just “the receipt is inside”.
I get the sense that Chinese relies on context more than English, or at least relies on context in ways that English doesn’t, since a large proportion communication in any language is always shared context.
This sign in the Kent Vale lift says:
For children between 6 to 16 years
When you have two numbers, you need “between… and”, or “from… to” not “between… to”.
For children from 6 to 16 years old
For children between 6 and 16 years old
I’ve seen this problem before.
This sign in the lift at Kent Vale says
Pre-loved Items Collection
Which sounds weird to me because I would have said
Pre-loved Item Collection
even though obviously they will be collecting more than one.
It’s an example of a tendency to pluralize nouns being used as adjectives, which I’ve posted about already, twice.
This sign at OG says:
Now, I used to think that the word “apparel” had no legitimate plural form, but it appears I was wrong.
Google’s dictionary says:
However, I don’t think Pierre Cardin is offering 20% off embroidered ornamentation on ecclesiastical vestments. I think they’re offering 20% off men’s shirts.
I was wrong, yes, but the sign was also wrong, unless “apparels” is a verb, and the sign is really saying that someone named Pierre Cardin is in the habit of appareling or clothing others… which, in a sense, he is, I suppose.
Below is an example of writing that uses the word “apparels” in the technically correct sense. Note that the plural does not refer to the ecclesiastical vestments or articles of clothing themselves, only to some bits of decoration on them.
While embroidered pieces known as apparels were used on albs, dalmatics, and tunicles to represent Christ’s stigmata when placed at the end of sleeves and at hems, the practice of incorporating this form of ornamentation on vestments was gradually replaced by the use of lace in Western vestments during the sixteenth century.
—Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion
So unless you are knowledgeable about albs, dalmatics, and tunicles, steer clear of the word “apparels”.
If you are looking for an illustrated, sexually explicit, New York–themed guide to learning English as a second language, look no further than English Is Not Easy.
The pages include generous amounts of whitespace, the lettering is varied and attractive, and the examples and red-and-black illustrations are… memorable.
When and Why I Read English Is Not Easy
This book was a gift.
Genre: non-fiction (language/reference)
Date started / date finished: 29-Aug-17 to 30-Aug-17
Length: 335 pages
Originally published in: 2013/2017
Amazon link: English Is Not Easy
This sign in the Kent Vale lift says:
Residents can dispose
their unwanted items at
3 locations from
9AM – 5PM
It should say “dispose of” for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere.
Also, the number 3 should probably be spelled out.
The sign avoids saying “between… to” though! Wait, no it doesn’t.
From the Office of Housing Services, the folks that brought you the critically acclaimed “Bicycle Clearance Exercise Notice“, comes another exciting announcement!
Apparently, residents of Kent Vale Block I can look forward to at least four more months of not having working screens in the elevators to tell us what floor we’re on. Sigh.
The sign maker missed out (left out) the word “any” in “Sorry for any inconvenience caused.” Whoever it was gets full marks for using “subject to” correctly, though. And for using the noun form “inconvenience” and not the adjective, as in “Apologies for any inconvenient caused,” which I have also seen.