Grammatically Sound Footwear Wednesday, Feb 17 2010 

This past weekend I took an educational trip to the Baltimore National Aquarium (photo below).  While at the aquarium I attended a dolphin show where I learned about the advanced communication among dolphins using clicks, squeaks, and squeels.  The dolphins communicate with each other using these sounds and the trainers mimic the sounds to prompt the dolphins to do tricks for the audience.

It’s a shame humans aren’t so clear in their communication.  About an hour after I learned about dolphins’ sophisticated communication, I encountered a sign in the human world that left me utterly baffled.  Placed in front of an escalator, the sign read:

“Caution: Avoid injury soft rubber shoes

keep feet between the yellow lines”  etc.

I understand what “keep feet between the yellow lines” means, but what is “avoid injury soft rubber shoes”?  Something’s missing.  An infinitive and a verb maybe?  “To avoid injury, wear soft rubber shoes”.  That’ll work. Though if certain footwear is recommended for riding the escalator, shouldn’t visitors know this before entering the aquarium instead of in the middle of an exhibit on the second floor?  Even with my adjustments to the statement to make it more stable, I still don’t think it properly communicates whatever its point is.  The other commands on the sign are easy to follow.  I know how to keep my feet between yellow lines.  I can hold onto the hand rails.  But making sure I’m wearing the proper shoes midway through my visit?  A little harder to fix.

So, Baltimore National Aquarium, I have two charges for you:

1. Failing to proofread your signs.  You are an instutituion that instructs men, women, and children alike about the fascinating world of water.  A noble cause.  But as an educational instutition, please don’t let other important educational disciplines escape you.

2. Failing to effectively communicate.  Even if you proofread your sign to make it structurally sound, what are you trying to tell visitors with this safety tip?  How can they help what shoes they wore that day and how does that fit with the other proactive goals of the sign, such as not leaving children unattended or not bringing strollers onto the escalator.  Take a cue from your dolphin friends and communicate a little more effectively.

That being said, I think the Baltimore aquarium is a wonderful place and I greatly enjoy visiting it.  But how can a grammar-nut relax when even educational instututions are dropping the ball with clear, effective communication.  Come on, Baltimore aquarium!. If you can correctly spell the Latin name for the archerfish (Toxotes chatareus, in case anyone was wondering), I have faith that you can create caution signs that will knock my socks off!

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I think therefore I’m a person! Friday, Feb 12 2010 

Sitting in my constitutional law class this week, I learned about more than just my legal rights.  I learned about my personhood.  On the blackboard behind my professor’s head was an ad for the university’s service trip auction.  The ad supplied the time and date along with prices for admission:

“$5/student       $15/person”

Did I miss something?  I was almost positive I learned in constitutional law class that I had the rights of a person.  And I could have sworn from religion classes in my sixteen years of Catholic schooling that I was a person created specially by God.  Or so I was told.  Silly girl!  You’re a student, not a person!  Well, that would explain the poor quality of food they sometimes serve in the dining halls unworthy of human palates.

I’m going to assume the promoters of the service trips auction are not trying to make a political statement and just made an honest mistake.  Simple enough.  But in the interest of preserving my dignity as a human being while I serve the remainder of my years as a student, I can’t overlook the need to clarify that my fellow students and I are indeed people.

Which brings me to my point (didn’t think I had one, did you?).  Mistakes in grammar or word usage may seem harmless enough, but a simple slip could mean the dehumanization of a significant portion of the population. (How significant? Not sure exactly. English majors don’t take many math or statistics classes).  So choose your words wisely for you never know when your slip could create a philosophical crisis of being for your readers or listeners.

What a lucky kid! Friday, Feb 5 2010 

While vacationing in Wildwood, New Jersey last summer, my family and I couldn’t help hamming it up at a tourist photo stand.  Seemed harmless enough.  Little did I know I would be participating in the spread of mispunctuation.  Posing behind a wooden cut-out of a lifeguard, I stood beside a sign that read:
” Water temp: Perfect
Air temp: Just right to let the kid’s swim”
An icy shiver runs up my back as I force myself to type this egregious mistake.
Who is this lucky kid who gets to swim all by himself or herself?  And what are we letting his or her swim do?
To think that hundreds— nay, possibly thousands!— had their pictures taken with this cut-out, blissfully unaware of the monstrosity a mere foot or so from their heads.  It’s enough to make a grammar-nut sick.  So I beg you, Wildwood, please proofread your signs so that no future generations of tourists may accidentally fall victim to improper punctuation.  Do it for the children who need to learn proper punctuation to one day lead successful lives.  (Exagerrated? Ok, maybe.)  Do it for the New Jersey public school system that teaches students to avoid such mistakes. (At least I’m hoping.  I went to Catholic school in Philadelphia, so I really have no idea.)  Or at the very least, do it for us language obessessed who will sleep a little sounder knowing there is one less source of bad punctuation in the world.
Thank you.

What a lucky kid!

The Entertaining Side of Grammar Tuesday, Feb 2 2010 

Try as a may, I can’t escape my obsession with grammar, punctuation, word usage, spelling… the list goes on.  I even wrote my personal statement for law schools about diagramming sentences.  At least now I can take my unusual obsession and make it productive for class.  I thought linguistics would be a really weird topic for a blog until I found LanguageLog, a blog run by University of Pennsylvania phonetician Mark Liberman.   This blog has witty observations about mistakes in grammar, punctuation, word use— everything I’m obsessed with.  Murphy’s Law at its finest, every link to the site is magically broken and Google can no longer find the page.  I’ll try again later.

I think my topic will work because grammar-related mistakes often make for funny results.   Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, a guidebook to punctuation, centers on the funny things that happen when people mispunctuate.  The title comes from a mistake made by someone describing the eating habits of pandas.  Instead of the panda peacefully eating his bamboo shoots and leaves, the extra commas suggest a scene out of a gangster movie with the panda shooting up a restaurant before leaving.

I may use “funny” too liberally, but these are the examples that I think are funny.  I’ll try my best to keep my posts on this more humorous slant instead of ranting about poor spelling, grammar, and the like.