Category Archives: signage

As Promised: Sign Exposé

We all love to have a laugh over grammar and spelling mistakes on signs — especially when the results are hilarious — as Jay Leno and other late night show hosts can attest. Previously on this blog, I poked fun at some error-riddled signs around Toronto

Finding errors on signs was “like shootin’ fish in a barrel,” I wrote. Spelling errors and inconsistencies in capitalization were common, as were errors in the names of small businesses. How do these errors occur, I’ve always wondered. I imagined a nefarious world of sign printers laughing callously at the text and graphics submitted by unsuspecting clients — text and graphics to be printed on otherwise perfectly charming and colourful awnings. I imagined lost revenue, shattered egos, and revenge fantasies brought to life in minutely executed detail — or at the very least, small claims court cases. Like Lynne Truss on the radio program Cutting a Dash, I went in search of answers.

First, I spoke with Ken at Van Winkle Sign & Display. The company’s home page states that they offer “Concept Consultation,” “Staff of True Signage Craftsmen,” and “Custom Qr-codes on your signage solution.” (Any red pens out yet?) Near the bottom of the page, centre is spelled center. Maybe I should have asked about their website manager…

Ken generously took the time to answer my questions. He said the company engages clients in a full design process. They proofread text and have never found the need to hire an editor, relying instead on the client to catch errors. Ken agreed that there are plenty of signs to be found with errors. He opined that Ontario’s diversity is probably a root cause of the errors: lots of people have English as their second language. He also said that it’s easy to buy a printing machine and hang out a sign maker shingle —  the ol’ story we all shake our heads at when it happens within our own professions.

Second, I spoke with Igor at Sign-A-Rama. What stands out on the company’s website is the inconsistency: Sign-A-Rama, Sign A Rama, Signarama. I can’t help but think that the quality of their website content is a direct reflection of the quality of the signs they print. But Igor said the client supplies the files, and then Sign-A-Rama provides proofs for the client to sign off on, putting the onus on the client for any errors. Igor said he would certainly offer suggestions if a client offered less than ideal material, but the client’s wishes are paramount. He said that often a client’s files contain poorly designed graphics, and he mentioned leading and kerning, leaving me to infer that design — not editorial — concerns tend to be front and centre.

Last, I spoke with Janet at Burry Sign Studio. Their website is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate, with a few subtle textual errors that would probably go unnoticed by most people: inconsistency in capitalization, lack of hyphens. When asked about being presented with clients’ error-riddled files, Janet said she asks herself, should I tell them or not? Keeping clients happy is job #1, and Janet implied she is wary of correcting clients – especially ones who should know better. She once had a client from OCAD who wanted a sign printed that included a web address. Janet noticed that the address was incorrect, and although she worried about upsetting the client, she knew the sign would be useless without the correct information. She told the client, who I imagine was nothing but grateful.

I knew Janet and I were kindred spirits when she brought up one of her sign pet peeves – one we have in common with Lynne Truss: the apostrophe s! Yes, I commiserated. They’re either put in where they shouldn’t be or omitted when they should be present!

There you have it. There isn’t a shady underworld of sign printers after all. Sign printers are simply performing a service for their clients, and it’s up to the clients to know what they want.

 If this research has taught me anything, it’s that there’s plenty of work out there for editors – work on websites, that is. Corporate websites need help.



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Signs of the Times

There may be many errors on local storefront signs, but these signs of spring in my Toronto neighbourhood are perfection.

Flowers 016Flowers 015Flowers 013Flowers 014Flowers 012Flowers 005Flowers 007Flowers 008

Happy Victoria Day weekend, everyone!

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(Y)eGod(s)! (editorial Gaffe of the day)

Well, this time the mistake isn’t mine.

Flowers 004

It’s hard to see with the glare, but what we’re missing here is a little thing known as parallel construction. “Men & Boys”; “Ladies & Girls.” Should be “Women & Girls” or “Gentlemen & Boys.” I know some people have an issue with ladies per se (here’s an interesting take), but I ain’t one of ’em.

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The Apostrophe Catastrophe

The apostrophe is everywhere lately — literally. I’ve complained before about its incorrect usage, and I’m certainly not alone.

In yesterday’s Post, Robert Fulford writes about the misunderstood apostrophe, and he describes vigilante editors who take it upon themselves to make corrections to all the signs with the added apostrophes: Cd’s, Record’s, Dvd’s!

The apostrophe also came up on a recent discussion board for freelancers. An editor was called out for her use of the apostrophe in a sentence similar to the following: “I hope things go well at your parents’, and I hope you get good news at the solicitor’s.” But her critic was wrong. These apostrophes are correct because she’s referring to the parents’ house and to the solicitor’s office.

This blog needs a shot of colour, so here’s a spring photo with an accompanying sentence with as many correct apostrophes and plurals as I could manage.

Flowers 001Flowers 002

My neighbours’ property has a beautiful tree. The tree’s beautiful colour is my heart’s joy. My neighbours know I like the tree, and they have offered me one of the tree’s clippings. But I declined my neighbours’ offer. The tree, the tree’s leaves and flowers, and the leaves and flowers’ heartwarming colour should remain undisturbed by the likes of me.

(Note that in the last sentence above, leaves and flowers share a possession: colour. When this is the case, the apostrophe is used with only the second possessor.)

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Like Shootin’ Fish in a Barrel

I’ve been searching for errors on storefront signs around the city. Today there was no shortage of offenders. The most common errors were as you might expect:

  • An apostrophe s where none is needed (or vice versa):
They should have stopped at "Art."

They should have stopped at Art.

Are the materials for artists (no apostrophe), or do the materials belong to artists (apostrophe)? No apostrophe is needed here. Better: Rename the store Art Materials. Best: Artists R Us.

  • A plural form where none is needed (or a singular where a plural is needed):
Fruits, anyone?

They’re selling the fruits of their labour, perhaps?

Where's the s?

With a logo this unforgettable, who needs the s?

  • An adjective used as a noun (or vice versa):
An improvement: Improve Your English

Improve Your English, will ya.

The above sign is around the corner from my house and has bothered me for years. My vote would be to go with “Improve Your English.” English-speaking (with a hyphen) is an adjective, not a noun. Alternatives could include “Improve Your Spoken English” or “Improve Your Conversational English.” Drop one of the frees and omit the ESL, and I can walk past without the snicker.

  • The use of American spellings:
In Canada, it's "centre."

In Canada, it’s “centre.”

In Canada, we "flavour" our food.

We Canucks “flavour” our food.

  • Inconsistent capitalization (and spacing and order, in this instance):
"Manufacturer & Wholesaler of Sportswear, souvenirs,  smoking & Fashion Accessories

“Manufacturer & Wholesaler _of Sportswear, souvenirs, _smoking & Fashion Accessories”

Speaking of inconsistency, I’m bestowing an award on today’s most inconsistently spelled word. Congratulations, jewellery

  • Creative (read: incorrect) spellings:
Their coconut buns are the driest in the city -- guaranteed!

Their coconut buns are the driest in the city — guaranteed!

Get Jean's drape before anyone else snags it!

Get Jean’s drape before anyone else snags it!

Of all the ways jewels could be misspelled, I never would have guessed this.

Of all the signs in all the world, jewells had to walk onto mine.

And yes, this is a menu item, not the last name of the owner.

And yes, this is a menu item, not the last name of the owner.

On offer: purse, scarfs and wallet

On offer: purse, scarfs, and wallet

Git yur backpack, belt, and souvener here.

Git yur backpack, belt, and souvener here.

Takeout was consistently spelled take-out. This was unusual in its incorrectness.

Takeout was consistently spelled take-out. This sign was unusual in its incorrectness: take out as two words.

There were lots of signs that used E- in the text: “E-style haircut.” Really? Is this some kind of fashion I’m unaware of, because variations on this were everywhere (and e-tea, anyone?).

Lots of signs were just plain confusing:

VCD? Am I late to the tech revolution again?!

VCD? Am I late to the tech revolution again?!

The most disappointing mistake was from one of the big banks:

Transfer in?

Transfer in?

Best business name of the day goes to Hair Do. Worst business name is a tie between On Care (not call) Pharmacy and this travesty:

Is that French?

Is that French?

Here’s the absolute worst sign of the day:

This one needs a team of editors.

This one needs a team of editors.

To end on a bright note, here’s a sign that could have gone wrong in so many ways but didn’t:


Nice — no apostrophes!


Filed under apostrophe s, capitalization, grammar, signage, spelling

The Doo-doo on Doo’s for Dogs

I spoke with the owner of Doo’s for Dogs today, and she said that Doo is indeed short for hairdo. The dog logo was created by a designer and is based on a photo of the owner’s dog. The owner said she and the designer together agreed on the end result. My sense is that, for the owner, the most important aspect of the design was the overall image. I didn’t ask whether or not she considered the correctness of the name of the business (not to mention the play on doo-doo, which may be the bigger sin — or not, depending on your viewpoint). I was simply grateful that she took the time to speak with me. The place sounded busy over the phone — dogs were definitely getting ‘dos!

So there you have it: a spelling mistake and the ubiquitous addition of an apostrophe s. So many storefront signs include the apostrophe s (We Sell CD’s and DVD’s!) that people would probably think signs without them were incorrect.

Doo’s for Dogs vs. ‘Dos for Dogs. My choice would be to go for the correct ‘dos but to use lower case letters: ‘dos for dogs. To me, the lower case letters make ‘do more recognizable as the short form of hairdo. Using the correct version with capitals would probably cause some nerd out there to comment, “Disc operating system for dogs? That’s awesome!”

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Sign Exposé Teaser

I continue to work on my sign exposé. This small business sign in my neighbourhood caught my attention:

Sign expose 001

This is a classic misuse of the apostrophe — or is it? Maybe the owner’s name is, say, Dooley, and the name of the business is a clever take on that — you know, it’s Doo’s business for dogs. Geez, I hope so, because if not, Doo’s is just wrong: one o and an apostrophe too many. Stay tuned: I’m going to talk to the owner to find out.

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