Bad Signs

"That's a bad sign." When someone says that, it usually means trouble is on the way. For those who care about language, errors in punctuation, grammar, and spelling are just such signs, especially when they appear on huge posters and billboards or in "professional" publications. If thousands of people are going to see it, someone should care enough to make sure it is correct. Sadly, this is not always the case. To battle this lack of attention to detail that will likely be the downfall of the human race, I started collecting bad signs: written artifacts (signs, posters, announcements, headlines, and other writing that will be seen be a wide audience) that contain errors in punctuation, grammar, or spelling. I collected them to illustrate how careless we have become and to encourage students to pay attention to the details of language that affect not only the meaning we try to convey but also how others will view us when we do it incorrectly. The offer to my students (and anyone else who will participate) is simple: Send me pictures of signs that contain errors, and I will use them in my classroom (and on this website) to sensitize people to the conventions of language. Extra credit is available for signs or publications that have a very wide audience; in other words, the more people who will see the error (the more shameful it is), the more extra credit you get! For example, this comma splice that hung on the wall of the school for two weeks was probably seen by 1200 people or so. Not bad. But this banner on the side of a restaurant was seen by many many thousands of people during the three months it was on display. And this abomination in a chain of national stores was probably seen by millions of Americans. Do you know what's wrong with these signs? See, that's the point: We live in a world where there is so much bad writing, many of us just quit paying attention to it. We shouldn't. The details matter. Pay attention to them. Send me your bad signs.

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