Missing the point … again

Posted on Sat 14 Dec 2013 @ 3.07am UTC

Not strictly within the mission of this blog, but this latest item from our social feed shows us how even the articulate and the fluent can be blindsided by a simple, ignorable sign when the entire experience of a language rests on specific, hidebound rules of some kind.

costco sign via specgram facebook 2013 1214

(via Speculative Grammarian)

Caption that went with the picture:—

“In today’s edition of ‘Punctuation Matters’ we have a nicely ambiguous sign. It’s either missing a comma or an apostrophe. Does it mean Costco takes no responsibility for customers, cars or contents? If so, that’s a bit hurtful to me as a regular customer. Or, more likely, does it mean that Costco takes no responsibility for cars or contents belonging to customers (customers’ cars or contents)?”

Just a bit hurtful? Which part of the body is it hurting? Been a bit hurtful, or did you mean wanting a bit more hurtful instead?

One commenter expresses the position of the rest of us who are unwashed in the ways of grammar and linguistics:—

“The is Scott Langral, director of the Secret Service, and I am in charge of this situation.” (“Lockout,” 2012)

Oops! Wrong quote. Here’s the correct one:—

“It’s perfectly clear to me. They’re referring to a kind of car — ‘customers[‘] cars.’ You know that adjective — customers. I think it means unlocked — or shiny.”

Faith in humanity restored.

Another commenter butted in with a helpful observation:—

“There is a slight chance that a period [fullstop] is missing. Costco will assume no responsibility for customers. Cars or contents thank you.”


Hopefully this will short-circuit the inevitable “It can’t mean that” discussion:—

Believe it or not, this is actually a legally valid declaration (even though it’s ambiguous language-wise). The whole point is to make it mean two things simultaneously (customers, cars or [cars’] contents vs. customers’ cars or their contents). There is danger (legally speaking) in precision, including potentially lost profitable earnings from litigation.

It’s really the same kind of story with the by-now-famous “10 Items or Less” supermarket signs — the pet peeve of grammar nazis. Less should’ve been fewer grammatically. The O&M studies done by the military during the WW1 and WW2 years suggest less is better at crowd control.

“It’s easy to be a saint when nothing’s on the line. But when you’re on the line, everyone runs for cover.” — Marian Snow in “Lockout”

Is everyone this obnoxious all the time, or is this just a part-time job for them?

(Hat tip to Speculative Grammarian)


© Learn English or Starve, 2013. (B13427)

(Featured image via www.freestockphotography.com.au)

Posted in: Colour Section