Mind your steps!

Broken idiom alert. This sign at the National Skin Centre pharmacy says:

CAUTION!
Tripping Hazard.
Mind Your Steps!

I think in the US we’d be more likely to say “watch your step” rather than “mind your step”, but pluralizing ‘step’ would be wrong in either case.

Sure, it’s logical that you’d want to be careful over the course of many steps, but conventionally, that’s not what we say.

I think we use the singular noun because this ‘step’ really means ‘manner of walking’. Here are some examples that showcase this singular sense of ‘step’.

The job promotion put a spring in his step.

The dancer has a graceful and lovely step.

The thief listened for the confident step of the policeman.

There is room for confusion because ‘step’ more often means ‘footstep’, and footsteps are often potentially plural, even when they are not syntactically plural.

The craftsman hoped his son would follow in his (foot)steps.

The sound of (foot)steps faded away down the hall.

Every (foot)step brought her closer to her goal.

Now that I think about it, the noun ‘stride’ has a similar duality: the singular noun means a manner of walking and the plural noun is used to refer to a series of individual movements.

I think there’s also pressure to pluralize ‘step’ coming from the common use of ‘steps’ to mean ‘stairs’.

The spilled water cascaded down the steps.

Anyway, the upshot is that the warning to “watch your step” or “mind your step” means “pay attention to your manner of walking”, not “pay attention to each of your footsteps”.

No Smoking Prohibited By Law

The sign says:

No Smoking
Prohibited By Law

But it should say:

No Smoking
By Law

or

Smoking Prohibited By Law

or

No Smoking
Smoking Is Prohibited By Law

Why? Because it almost sounds as if not smoking is not allowed. In other words, it sounds like everyone must smoke.

Obviously people are not really going to conclude that they must smoke when they see this sign, but all the same, the English is not quite right.

Dengue warrior

It would be hard to overstate the extent to which I hate mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are deadly serious. But this banner is still funny.

For one thing, that warrior, with his Roman helmet, looks really out of place in Southeast Asia. The text at the bottom takes the cake, though.

It says:

SILENT WAR. FIGHT DENGUE. SAVE LIFE

Lists that aren’t parallel are a pet peeve of mine. Lists should be all nouns or all verbs. Here we’ve got a noun and two imperatives. Sigh.

Furthermore, that ‘life’ should be ‘lives’. The fact that it isn’t testifies to the frequency of singular/plural errors in Singapore.

And then finally, there’s no punctuation after the last item of the list!

I recommend:

WAGE WAR · FIGHT DENGUE · SAVE LIVES

Now I’m totally with you, out-of-place Roman centurion.

Queue for taxi

at the National Skin Centre
at the National Skin Centre

The sign says “QUEUE FOR TAXI”.

I wonder whether it means “[This is the] queue for [getting a] taxi” or “[Please ] queue [here] for [a] taxi”.

In one case, ‘queue’ is a noun, and in the other case, ‘queue’ is a verb. Actually, I think ‘queue’ is probably a verb.

Not that it really matters.

It only matters if the sign is trying to say, “[This is the] queue for [the] taxis [themselves]” because then it would be a singular/plural error.

The sign should just say “taxi queue” like most of them do.

In the US, we don’t really use the word ‘queue’. Which is fine with me, since as far as I can tell, ‘queueing’ is pretty much the only English word that has five consecutive vowels (HT XKCD).

In other news, ‘strengthlessnesses’ is a plausible hypothetical word with surprisingly few vowels, all of them ‘e’.

On a related note: at some point, Gallup chairman Dr. Donald O. Clifton apparently decided to name his awesome analysis tool  The Clifton Strengthsfinder, ensuring it would be unpronounceable even to native speakers of English and completely inconceivable to anyone else. I mean, ‘strengths’ is bad enough, but to then follow it up with a word starting with ‘f’? What was he thinking? I guess he never taught a small child how to read.

No MSG?

no-msg-added
at Eggs & Berries at Westgate

Let this banner teach you to quit while you’re ahead.

“No MSG added” is fine, but “in all our food” doesn’t make sense. In fact it almost makes it sounds like there is MSG… in all the food.

Original:

No MSG added in all our food.

Recommended:

All our food is made without MSG.
No MSG added to any of our food.
No MSG in any of our food.
No MSG.

Pesky conjunctions

The same taxi had two signs prohibiting eating and drinking. One said “no food and drinks” and the other said “no food or drink”.

“No food and drinks” is wrong. It assumes that the ‘no’ applies to one combined entity, food-and-drinks. One could imagine this syntax being valid if someone said, “You can’t come in, you have no suit and tie.”

It’s also weird that ‘food’ is treated as a noncount noun and ‘drink’ is treated as a count noun. It would sound slightly better, though still wrong, if the sign said “no food and drink”. Then I would, perversely, wonder whether it would be okay to have just food or just something to drink, as long as I didn’t have both. The ‘no’ doesn’t distribute, so “no food and drink” doesn’t mean “no food and no drink”.

Now I wonder why we don’t say “no food and no drink”. And what verb would you use? “No food and no drink is/are permitted in this taxi.”

I wonder why we don’t use ‘neither… nor’ on signs like this. “Neither food nor drink is permitted in this taxi” would be correct.

“No food or drink” sounds normal. At least, I thought it did. Now I’ve been thinking about it too much and everything sounds strange.

“No eating or drinking” would be good. It wouldn’t rule out someone bringing food and drink into the taxi, but perhaps that’s okay anyway. Certainly I’ve transported groceries, snacks and leftovers in taxis.

But not durians! Some taxis have signs specifically prohibiting them:

no-durian-in-taxi
“No Eating / Drinking”. That slash adroitly dodges the whole issue of the conjunction! Well done.

The reminder on the far right to “please state your preferred route” is to protect drivers from being scolded at the end of the trip for taking the surface streets when obviously going by the highway is faster, or for taking the highway when obviously going by the surface streets is cheaper, or whatever.