Friday, March 2, 2012


Monday, March 4th is National Grammar Day. Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, invited me to write a post in honor of this special day.

As a Language Arts teacher, I am always on the lookout for real-world examples of good and bad writing that I can use in my classroom. One of my favorite bad examples is this photo, taken from an office door at the local supermarket. If you're having trouble reading it, it says "YOU DO I REPEAT DO NOT HAVE MAID SERVICE SO YOU WILL NEED TO CLEAN UP BEHIND YOURSELF!!!"

It's safe to assume a manager wrote and posted this notice. The door opens onto one of those narrow staircases leading up to a large office with a tinted window. This is where the store manager stands and watches everything going on in her realm. I think some of them rub their hands together and cackle with glee as they do this.

I doubt the store manager wrote this notice, though. She probably farmed it out to the Customer Service Manager or even the head cashier. In any case, this writer would receive an F in my class.

First of all, what part of a sentence is "I REPEAT DO NOT?" And why is "DO" underlined if the point is to say "DO NOT?" And isn't it redundant to tell people who are tasked with keeping the store clean that they do not have maid service? It would be more accurate to say "YOU ARE I REPEAT ARE THE MAID SERVICE!!!"

Secondly, I have never heard of anyone cleaning up "behind" her or himself. In the South, where I live and where this sign hangs, "behind" connotes a person's butt. So the public display of the phrase "clean up behind" creates an image with which I am not comfortable.

Lastly, Miss or Mr. Manager, let's talk about the tone of this sign. I know you wanted to show authority and perhaps frustration with people who do not always clean up after themselves. But was it really necessary to write in ALL CAPS? ALL THAT DOES IS MAKE YOU LOOK HOSTILE!!! AND THE EXCESSIVE USE OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! IS UNWARRANTED BECAUSE THIS IS NOT A COMIC BOOK!!!!! IT IS REAL LIFE, AND THE PEOPLE WHO WORK UNDER YOU HAVE REAL EMOTIONS!!!!

Perhaps you have forgotten what it was like when you got your first job as a younger person. You were inexperienced and maybe a little nervous. Everyone else had been there longer. They gave you all the crappy jobs they didn't want, like cleaning the bathroom or baling the cardboard.

First jobs are meant to show people how to be responsible employees. Whether you like it or not, Miss or Mr. Manager, a young person's work ethic is usually still under construction. Your job is to mold them- not belittle them and breed resentment.

Seriously, the manager who wrote this sign is just like a teacher who brags about getting kids suspended. A little compassion goes a long way. If I don't do my job, and you have to fire me, you can even do that with compassion.

On the other hand, a grocery store does need to be clean. This is my question for my readers: How would you rewrite this sign so it is both grammatically correct and non-confrontational? Leave your revised version in the comments, and I will share the best ones on twitter.

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