Signs, yet again

British sign grammar is becoming a bit of an obsession. (See previous posts here and here.) This week’s entries:

Outside the local tire shop (except they spell it tyre):

20% off Servicing

My reaction: Phwoar! Oh wait, you mean the car.

On a vacant shop along my walk to work:

To let. Capable of subdividing.

My reaction: It’s ALIVE!!!!!!!! Try “can be subdivided” instead.

But the sign thing was nearly a disaster for me earlier this week as I desperately cling to the diminishing fragments of my American identity. I was behind in doing something and had not managed to post a sign-up sheet on my office door that had been promised. I was going to get to it the next day but wanted to indicate that, so I started composing a sign:

The sign-up sheet will be posted tomorrow afternoon. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

I fortunately stopped myself before I wrote the last bit, but I thought it and it sounded perfectly reasonable in my head.

I keep saying I’m becoming British-influenced. FACEPALM.


14 responses to “Signs, yet again

  1. On behalf of Brits may I apologise for the poor grammar of some of my countryfolk. Sadly the grocers carrot’s (sic) as they are known are only too frequent.

    But I’m confused. What would you have written on the note about the sign-up sheet if you were being truly American instead of being Brit-influenced? Why is that particularly British phrasing.

    (Or are you saying that you wouldn’t have tagged on any apology for any inconvenience, however phrased? Oh my.)

    • Afraid so–the apologies line is not something I can recall ever seeing on an American sign, especially not one to do with road or building works, which is where they seem to be ubiquitous around here…

  2. How unreasonable of the English to use English spelling in their own country!

  3. CRIMSONDAMASK. the Eglish sarcasm deserves an oscar!
    Your apology note seems correct to me….why so many doubts?

  4. I can understand signs for roadworks etc needing to be short and simple so they can be read without distracting the driver, but if the sign-up sheet had been expected that day then as it stands the note announcing the change does feel a little blunt for my English sensibilities.

    This brings back to my mind something I have long suspected but not been certain of. Is there a UK / US cultural difference that (at least traditionally) in the UK an apology doesn’t have connotations of an admission of guilt?

    • Interesting question. Americans in my experience only make apologies when they are truly sorry about something, and it’s a relatively rare thing. Brits seem to throw the word around in a manner that to my American ears sounds quite casual to the point of losing meaning because it’s used so much. I had a team member who I had put a penny in a jar in my office every time he apologised, as it would happen every few minutes in the course of a one hour technical meeting!

  5. Another interesting thing about apologies (says she, wandering off the subject slightly. Sorry) is that Americans apoligise for stuff that isn’t under their control. This used to throw me at first. Examples include – “I’m sorry that you broke your leg skiing” or “I’m sorry that it rained on your wedding day”. (Made up of course.)
    To a Brit, these apologies are confusing until you realise that Americans are simply expressing pity/sympathy etc, much in the way we would say “What a shame it rained on your wedding day”.

    • Interesting Expat Mum , to me those are typical British examples, the archetypical British apology being you bump into me so I say sorry to you! I’m from Yorkshire, so I guess in that respect my English background isn’t hugely different to your N.E. version.

  6. I agree with Expat Mum – I’ve noticed that here, people say ‘I’m sorry’ about something that we would say ‘what a pity’ or alternatively ‘nightmare!’ to – eg. I had to spend all Sunday with my child in the ER. I have not particularly noticed lack of apologising, although Americans tend to be more direct (eg. in Britain we might say “I’m sorry, but could you move out of the way – but in New York, there would be no sorry about it!)

  7. Ah, loving the US/UK divide on the English language. I find it fascinating. I’ve just finished reading a book on it. I can’t really comment as I’ve never been to the US and I’m so used to the above examples that I don’t really see it. Although, of late, I’ve become a bit of a grammar nazi. It happens when your boyfriend is a sub editor.

  8. I am blissfully crap at grammar. I say ‘blissfully’ because I don’t get too anxious about getting it wrong. I know it bothers some people so I do try to be fairly reasonable but overall I just accept that the trend in a lack of focus on grammar when I was at school, combined with 20 years in the UK (where rules seem to be slightly different than the place where I learned English) has me well and truly befuddled. If someone corrects me, I try to remember it, i.e. as an American I heard a lot of “why do you Americans say ‘gotten’ instead of ‘got’?” and so for better conversational flow in the UK I say ‘got’ now–but I don’t actually know if one is more correct than the other.

    Your sign series is interesting, partly because I have forgotten how different some of these must seem, and partly because of the fact that they intrigue you so much!

  9. This is such an interesting subject. How we apologise, and whether that has to involve an acceptance of guilt or not. I like Expat Mum’s comment.

    I was once complaining on the phone to a customer services agent (in England), and her stock response to whatever I said was “I apologise that you feel like that”. It sounded so ridiculous. It made me stop and think, though, why that should be. It wouldn’t have sounded odd if she’d said “I’m sorry that you feel like that”. We’re just British and odd.

  10. I’m a Brit living in America and I see silly signs too. I’m afraid bad grammar is universal.

    After all these years here though (16) I would still put that apology on the note and I’m confused as to why you feel bad about almost writing it. You were late with something and presumably that inconvenienced someone, so an apology seems like a nice polite thing to do. I guess I haven’t lost my Britishness yet!

    I just discovered your blog and it’s fascinating. Your confusions and frustrations about Britain exactly mirror mine about the US. I suppose we can never lose who we were (nor should we try).

    Keep up the great blogging!

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