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Right Out There In Public

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

–Les Emmerson,  Five Man Electric Band

It’s pretty eye-opening to take note of the  number and frequency of writing mistakes in public and commercial communications:  menus, brochures, packaging, posters, and signs.

One category of communications mistakes should surely be classified as typos.  And most of these are simple spelling errors.

Like the sign on the vacant restaurant in the village where I live:

“BDLG for Lease or Sale”

Not really sure what a “BDLG” is.

A local pizza joint printed thousands of paper take-home menus touting its “Traditional Italian Cusine.”  (The sign in the window has it right, thankfully:  cuisine.)

This will not surprise anyone who’s ever worked in advertising or publications.  There is no doubt that the most likely place for a typo is in a headline or title:  we tend to scrutinize tiny footnote type, assuming that the headline must be right.  And, as we all know about proofreading our own work, we see what we think should be there rather than what is actually there.

. . . as in this page header from a college financial aid brochure:

“The Free Application for Federal Sudent Aid (FAFSA).”

Punctuation problems constitute the next category of mistakes you see out in the world;  lots of them, as at my local Nissan dealer which posted a sign “Service Tech’s Wanted”, involve apostrophes.  (Of course, it should be, “Service Techs”.)

These kinds of mistakes are particularly noticeable when they’re made by someone who knows better.  So the folks who belong to the Poetry Club at a certain area Community College ought to be embarrassed by their poster: 

 ”The Poetry Club is calling for members and poetry submissions for it’s student magazine.”

All of the public schools in my city display banners that proclaim, “We Can Make A Difference”.   Why did they put the sentence in quotes?  Who said it? 

The Final category of signage mistakes comes  under the heading of  using the wrong word.

For example, we’re all familiar with the supermarket express lane that limits patrons to  “7 Items or Less”.  The sign should, of course, read, “7 Items or Fewer”.

Just last week, I noticed a printed window banner at a discount clothing retailer that read, “Find New Fashions EVERYDAY”. 

What the store really means to say is “Find New Fashions Every Day”.

I recently purchased a 45-roll package of toilet paper at a local warehouse store.  (The package always says “bathroom tissue”, but I never heard anybody call it anything but “toilet paper”, did you?)

Anyway, printed on the package are the words:

“Our Largest Everyday Package!”

And I wonder what that means.  Presumably, they sell an even larger package of special occasion tissue.  Hard to imagine, though.

And, by the way, why add the exclamation point?

About Gary Boyer

Gary Boyer is currently Director of the Writing Support Center at the Keuka College Center for Professional Studies, Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP). He is also the Acting Director of Admissions for the college and a faculty member, serving as an Instructor of English in the Humanities Division.

View all posts by Gary Boyer →

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