Plural noun adjuncts

I have seen this sign hundreds of times. It says:

24 Hours Hot Line

That’s a perfect example of a plural noun being used to modify another noun, like “cutleries station”, except that “hours” is a legit plural and “cutleries” is not.

I think the sign should say

24-Hour Hot Line

or maybe

24-Hour Hotline

because I think it’s better to modify nouns with singular nouns, even when there are twenty-four of the noun in question.

On an unrelated note:

I don’t know why Singapore phone numbers often don’t have hyphens where I’d expect to see them. I think we Americans pretty consistently put a hyphen in 1-800, and we put them after the first three digits of a seven-digit phone number, so I always expect to see one after the first four digits of the eight-digit phone numbers here. Sometimes there’s a space, sometimes there’s a period (“full stop”), sometimes there’s just nothing.

General Waste

This is the door that covers the rubbish chute on my floor in my building. It says “general waste”.

Every time I see it, I think of a joke which I somehow can’t find online anywhere, probably because the world moved on ages ago…

There used to be some kind of “blue screen of death” error that said “GENERAL EXCEPTION”.

I once saw a joke response that said:

Who is General Exception and what is he doing in my computer?

So now, EVERY TIME I go to throw stuff away, I invariably think:

Who is General Waste and what is he doing in my lift lobby?

Cutleries Station

I took this (lousy) photo of a sign that says “Cutleries Station” at Soup Spoon in Novena.

In modern standard British and American English, “cutleries” is not a word. (Neither is “equipments”.)

What makes this example interesting is that it raises another issue: whether we use singular or plural nouns as “noun adjuncts” or “attributive nouns”.

In other words, which is correct?

Drinks Machine
Drink Machine

Obviously, the machine would contain more than one drink, so using the plural is more “logical”, but it sounds horrible to me. Wikipedia says that the singular (or the possessive) is traditional in most cases, but that plurals are gaining ground.

I’ve seen several (many?) signs in Singapore that say “Children Playground” rather than “Children’s Playground”, which is doubly silly since those signs should probably just say “Playground” anyway.

(This one is in the complex where I live. At least “Residents’ Lounge” is correct.)

If you think “Children Playground” sounds awful, don’t laugh too hard. Whoever named the 2002 romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice neglected to include an apostrophe after “weeks”, unleashing a wave of scornful critique from movie-going fussbudgets. Apparently, educated native speakers working in the media and entertainment industries, even if they don’t misuse singulars and plurals, still struggle to distinguish plurals from possessives when modifying nouns with other nouns.

English is not easy!

Further Reading

Why does a hamburger symbolize food?

I don’t know what the English text of this blurry “no food or drink” sign says, but I don’t care; I’ve covered the text aspect of these signs already. I took the photo because I wanted to talk about the food and drink symbols.

The bigger sign features a double burger; usually the burgers on these signs only have one layer between two buns.

The smaller sign features a stemmed glass with a bent straw, suggesting an alcoholic cocktail; usually the drinks on these signs are trapezoids with straight straws that suggest sugary, carbonated soft drinks.

Both of the stickers, thus, differ in interesting ways from the canonical or prototypical “no food or drink” sign.

Still, I wonder how the prototypical “no food or drink” sign came about! I’ve seen similar signs all over the world, in places where a hamburger (or for that matter, the fast food restaurant in general) is presumably not a domestic cultural touchstone, but a relatively recent foreign import.

These stickers are not what you think of when someone says “globalization”, are they? Yet their spread must be attributable to the increase in international trade and communication in the decades since the hamburger was invented.

When and how (and where) was the hamburger invented? I don’t know. Wikipedia has some guesses. If you’re really curious, I hereby inform you that are at least two entire books on the subject (neither of which, in all likelihood, I will ever read):

I’d say the second one is more likely to explain why, all over the world, those black/red/white signs depict “food” as a hamburger.

Everyday vs. every day

My husband and I sometimes eat at Wild Honey. On our last visit, I was struck by this error on their new menu:

OPEN EVERYDAY FROM 9AM

It should say:

OPEN EVERY DAY FROM 9AM

The space between “every” and “day” is missing.

Now, you may be thinking, “Hang on, ‘everyday’ is a perfectly good word!”

Yes. Yes, it is, but it’s an adjective, and what’s needed in this and similar contexts is the two-word adverb phrase.

Here’s an example showing how to use the one-word adjective in front of a noun and the two-word adverb at the end of a sentence to modify the verb:

These are my everyday shoes. I wear them every day.

Now, can anyone tell me why there’s no such word as “everywhen”? We have “everywhere”, and “everything”, not to mention those vaguely plural singular words “everyone” and “everybody”.

Keep sight of your personal belongings

This is a photo of a sign in a toilet stall in the Lot One shopping mall. It says:

Dear Shopper,
Please keep sight of your personal belongings while in the toilet.
For assistance, dial 5314 6211

This bit of written language inspired several thoughts.

I think “keep sight of” is or has been an idiom in some places, but it did not strike me as apt, though the negative phrasing “do not lose sight of” would have sounded okay. The phrase “keep track of” sounds better, though I wouldn’t expect to see it on a sign.

I’m imagining I hear the voice of the late comedian George Carlin mocking the phrase “personal belongings”. It isn’t as if I’m likely to have brought with me any other kind of belongings, such as public belongings, onto an airplane, he says.

Here, “toilet” is obviously being used not to mean the porcelain commode, but to mean either “restroom” or “restroom stall”, though how you could lose sight of your personal belongings inside a restroom stall is a mystery to me, especially if you have just hung them on the hook just under the sign; if you fail to notice your belongings hanging just below the sign, the sign itself isn’t likely to do you any good! (Some restroom stalls have a shelf behind the commode; the sign would be a useful reminder to check for items placed there. This stall did not have such a shelf.)

Finally, at the bottom of the sign, behold a reminder that we live in the future: it is normal (in a shopping mall in Singapore, at least) for individuals to carry personal wireless communication devices that can at any point be used to summon urgent medical assistance. Or toilet paper.

Shopping for books on Selegie Road

At 7:45, Sultana Book Store at the Peace Centre was supposedly already closed for the day, in spite of appearances (and eager customers).

We had better luck at Book Treasure next door in the atrium of Parklane Shopping Mall.

I bought two books from Book Treasure. I saw several other interesting used books at good prices, but they were books I already own.
I say I bought two books, but actually I bought two editions of the same book. Go figure.
That’s me and my friend, reflected on the underside of the escalator.