Our Word Maven, Patricia T. O'Conner

Patricia picks the winners of our Bad Sign Language contest

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our word maven, Patricia T. O’Conner, picks the winners of our Bad Sign Language contest! And she answers your questions about language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of her book Woe is I has recently been published. Call us at 212-433-9692 or leave us a question.

Honorable Mention
photo by John Bastable
Beauty parlor in Richmond Hill, Queens.

4th Place
photo by Jeanne Heifetz
posted in Brooklyn Hardware, 5th Ave. Park Slope

3rd Place
photo by Milt Lilie taken in Rye Town Park, Rye, NY

2nd Place
photo by Kurt Lennig
In a honeywagon (the travelling bathrooms film crews are subjected to) on Gossip Girl.

1st Place
photo by Leonard Florescue
At a tailor shop on 29th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [34]

Don Kmetz from West New York, NJ

I heard someone on today's program say, in passing, that "misnomer" is another of those many misused words. I don't think there was any further comment. My question: How is it misused?

Jul. 21 2010 09:23 PM
mer from Manhattan

Eric from NJ:
I've always heard it as "All of a Sudden." Never heard the usage "all the sudden."

Jul. 21 2010 02:01 PM
April Joy Miala from Jersey City

When i was in Costa Rica, there was an ice machine that stated "made with 100% pure water"
I took a picture because i thought it was hilarious.

Jul. 21 2010 01:55 PM

There is a nonprofit in Connecticut which has clothing drop boxes labelled:

"Kiducation: We turn used clothing into new kids through education."

Jul. 21 2010 01:53 PM
Patricia from Sunset Park, Brooklyn

I submitted 5 photos to the Bad Sign Language Contest. I've enjoyed viewing all the entries but am disappointed to learn today that you eliminated from consideration any signs taken in neighborhoods with businesses that cater to non-English speaking immigrants. To my mind, this smacks of facile "political correctness"! One of the joys of living and raising children in Brooklyn is its staggering diversity. The photos I submitted taken in Sunset Park's Chinatown were taken by my 14 year old daughter. Each led to a lively conversation between us about possible meanings and what may have been lost in translation. These photos -- rather than making fun of my neighbors-- are our homage to them and to the richness they bring into our lives each and every day!

Jul. 21 2010 01:53 PM
Dana from Brooklyn

A question and an observation:
I've heard dissent, dissidence, and dissension - which is correct?

Also - and I heard this several times on NPR during the World Cup - reporters used the phrase African-American to refer to South Africans and black people of other nationalities. Oops!

Jul. 21 2010 01:51 PM
mark from brooklyn

re: fortuituous , worth noting that "happy" is related to "happen," "hap", indicates ancient relationship between "chance" and "good fortune."

Jul. 21 2010 01:51 PM
Danielle Jensen

recently i sent a comment to MrLopate when he had the ubel brothers on. I wrote"please settle an arguement between my husband and me". When it aloud on air he said "my husband and I" ,so I thought that he was correcting me but he then quickly changed it back to "me".I picked up on it right away because I wasn't sure what was correct although I thought it was "myself" not "I". Can you settle this?!

Jul. 21 2010 01:49 PM
Daniel Noonan from Brooklyn, Clinton Hill

I hear people use the folk often, mostly in reference to the music genre but recently I've heard the "L" in folk being pronounced, am I hearing things, or is this the correct way to pronounce it, I always thought it was a silent "L" like yolk,"yoke"... please help me with this. thanks Daniel, Brooklyn

Jul. 21 2010 01:48 PM
Derek from Oyster bay

Love the show! I've been told the term "The whole Nine yards is a military trem reffering to the length of ammo 9 yards bullets to be feed through a machine gun!

Jul. 21 2010 01:48 PM
Lisa from Manhattan

At a dry cleaner: "cleaning done on the premise." On the premise that it's dirty, I suppose!

Jul. 21 2010 01:47 PM
Eric from NJ

A question my wife and I disagree on. Is the phrase "All of a sudden," or "all the sudden?"

Opinions welcome!

Jul. 21 2010 01:46 PM
ero from Westch

Please inform PTO that one "Shoots fish in a barrel" not ducks.


Jul. 21 2010 01:45 PM
Roger from Nyack

The best road sign I've ever seen, while walking around the 'Theatreland' section of the West end in London:

'Changed Priorities Ahead'

Jul. 21 2010 01:43 PM

health club insists on announcing at closing time "get home safe" and that is how it is written in their book of procedures for employees.

Jul. 21 2010 01:43 PM
MSH from UES

I hate it how people now say they are waiting "on line." You wait IN line, but check email on line.

Jul. 21 2010 01:43 PM
Tim from Tappan, NY

I really hate the signs that say: "Positivley" no whatever - smoking, parking, snoring, etc. Shouldn't it be "Absolutely"?

Jul. 21 2010 01:42 PM

When and why did 'route' begin to be pronounced as 'rout'?

Jul. 21 2010 01:41 PM
Kathy P. from Lake Hopatcong, NJ

Many companies had some Performance Measurement Systems or Performance Management System called referred to as PMS. When news of the female problems referred to as Pre Menstrual Syndrom worked it's way into popular culture, some of these systems were quickly renamed.

Jul. 21 2010 01:41 PM
Roman from Brooklyn

While I understand why Patricia doesn't want to include foreign signs for this contest, I have to disagree with Patricia and Leonard when they defend the signs. I'm a translator, and it really bothers me when people, especially institutions like hotels and companies that really should invest in a proper translation, decide that they can just do things on their own, and their customers are supposed to give them a pass, because English isn't their native language. That's what professional translators are for. If you want to serve English speakers, or any other language, invest the money into a proper translation. There, now I've vented.

Jul. 21 2010 01:40 PM
Michaelanthony from Rego Park, Queens

I saw a sign in Brooklyn that read, "Department of Building's". Since this was an official government sign, I was particularly appalled that a superfluous apostrophe had been inserted in the word "buildings". I often wonder why the extra effort required to turn a plural into a possessive doesn't prevent people from confusing the two. Unfortunately -- or fortunately -- the sign was taken down before I could snap a picture. Maybe they noticed their error? Of course not, but at least it's gone!

Jul. 21 2010 01:40 PM
Eric from n

Language is communication. Lack of standard of communication leads to miscommunication. Miscommunication leads to conflict. There should be artisitic license in art... there should be self applied discipline in conversation with a grain of salt and patience.

Jul. 21 2010 01:39 PM
Mike from Planet Earth

I am a sports nut. You know drives me crazy is when an athlete uses the word “humbled” when they are given some kind of award or broke a record. You will hear them say “It was a humbling experience”. They should say they are honored. To be humbled, they would have to be beaten by a competitor or proven they were not as good as they originally thought.

Jul. 21 2010 01:39 PM
Katherine Harber from Macy's Midtown Manhatten

In Macy's on 34th street - the flagship store - there is a sing at the top of the escalator on the 2nd or 3rd floor, pointing customers to the

I have mentioned this to many employees and written a letter - it's been there for years!

Jul. 21 2010 01:38 PM

Language pet peeves.... are because we share the language. Any tool people share leads to conflict on the proper use of the tool. Same in workshops as in languages.

Jul. 21 2010 01:37 PM
Maxine Gold from Manhattan

Sorry I missed the contest, but can't help wanting to share something I saw recently on a dinner menu:

chicken, mashed potatoes, and, ready for this:


Jul. 21 2010 01:37 PM
Mark Rehnstrom from Guilford, CT

Aren't you mixing metaphors?
Shooting ducks in a barrel? Isn't it shooting fish in a barrel? and Duck soup?

Mark Rehnstrom
Guilford, CT

Jul. 21 2010 01:36 PM
merrill clark from new york

Spanish tends to make English initialisms into anachronisms: fbi and ucla, said as words.

Jul. 21 2010 01:35 PM
Jean-Marc Russ from Manhattan

I noticed a sign on the 34th street platform of the 1 Train... the sign said 'Dowtown'... I took a photo and sent it to the MTA... they changed it quite promptly.
I was amazed that my letter prompted such immediate rectification.

Please Thank Patricia for responding personally to my question about the correct use of 'suffice to say' or 'suffice is to say'.

Jul. 21 2010 01:35 PM
Simon from Manhattan

This is my least favorite segment & recurring guest on this show. cute sometimes? yes. but that's the extent of it.

Jul. 21 2010 01:31 PM
Unheard from NYC

Sorry no picture but I saw a sign reading "Iced Cold Water". I like this because while being wrong, they were bottles of water, it is also sort of right.

As lame as this is and I find myself flinching as type this...bring on the Palinisms.

Jul. 21 2010 01:28 PM
Nick from Flushing

Hey, Patricia, Leonard just said: "older than he."

Jul. 21 2010 01:23 PM

MARCONI SALAD, on the side of a deli on Long Island, also advertising their Potato Salad, Cole Slaw, etc.

Jul. 21 2010 01:00 PM

Tunnel Tease
Couldn't take this photo because its in the middle of the Holland Tunnel from NJ to NYC. There is a large, vertical EXIT sign on the wall next to a door that says, 'No Exit.'

Jul. 21 2010 12:52 PM

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