Express Lane Grammar

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at 12:49 AM | Filed under , ,

My mom, sister, and I went to Food Emporium to order a cake. Something I know I'm not the first to notice about the express checkout lines is that the signs are ungrammatical.

You aren't supposed to use the word "less" when you're talking about things that can be counted. Since the number of goods being purchased can be counted, the sign really ought to say "12 items or fewer." Actually, I think this akin to saying "eight minutes and a half"—I would prefer the sign to say "12 or fewer items."

We also went to Safeway. It seems like they try to avoid the entire "less"/"fewer" issue.

Unfortunately, this sign brings up another issue. The limit of groceries a customer can purchase is more generous, but when "15 item" is used to modify "limit", because it is more than one word, it becomes a compound modifier, and needs to be hyphenated. The sign really ought to read "15-item limit."

I suspect that sign makers who know these rules may still prefer to break them, arguing that the signs may somehow be more readable. I also suspect that most customers don't care or are far too excited about finding a 15-item-limit express lane to even notice.

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