The English language has tricky syntax and grammar; incorrect usage often delivers messages considerably different from what the writer intended to convey. Here are a few examples:
Cocktail lounge, Norway: "LADIES ARE REQUESTED NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IN THE BAR."
At a Budapest zoo: "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. IF YOU HAVE ANY SUITABLE FOOD, GIVE IT TO THE GUARD ON DUTY."
Doctor’s office, Rome: "SPECIALIST IN WOMEN AND OTHER DISEASES."
Dry cleaners, Bangkok: "DROP YOUR TROUSERS HERE FOR THE BEST RESULTS."
In a Nairobi restaurant: "CUSTOMERS WHO FIND OUR WAITRESSES RUDE OUGHT TO SEE THE MANAGER."
On an Indian River highway: "TAKE NOTICE - WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE."
In a City restaurant: "OPEN SEVEN DAYS A WEEK AND WEEKENDS."
A sign seen on an automatic restroom hand dryer: "DO NOT ACTIVATE WITH WET HANDS."
In a cemetery: "PERSONS ARE PROHIBITED FROM PICKING FLOWERS FROM ANY, BUT THEIR OWN GRAVES."
Tokyo hotel's rules and regulations: "GUESTS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO SMOKE OR DO OTHER DISGUSTING BEHAVIORS IN BED."
On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: "OUR WINES LEAVE YOU NOTHING TO HOPE FOR."
In each of these examples, misplaced words or phrases are the causes for these humorous messages. We can easily avoid such embarrassments as these by taking time to read and re-read what we write, both to ourselves and out loud. Sometimes the ear picks up what the eye doesn’t see.
Vernacular that is often loaded with grammatical errors is definitely in order when writing works that include direct quotes. In fiction, for example, a direct quote or dialogue may effectively describe that person. Body language and actual description from the story’s narrator may not be necessary if that character has their own colorful way of expressing themselves.
Dialogue can deliver to the reader a character’s uniqueness as well as their idiosyncrasies faster, easier and better than any other technical tool. The poet Robert Frost said, “You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.” In other words, there’s a time and place for usage errors.
That time and place, however, is not when developing public signs or writing any form of copy that represents you and demonstrates your expertise as a writer. You must be as correct as possible without sounding stuffy or stiff. Create a healthy balance between the rule book and your own voice.
Avoid innocent usage errors!