The grammatically challenged Boston airport needs help from Patricia O’Conner’s bestseller
By Janice Harayda
Airports had record delays this year, and their grammar isn’t doing well, either.
I wrote an extra post over the weekend about the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, so I was going to take the day off today. But I realized that I was looking at a literary emergency when I got to the baggage claim section at Logan International Airport yesterday and saw these lines on large, permanent signs above a carousel:
“Many bags look alike, compare your claim stubs with the tag on your bag.”
“Oversize items and pets may be claimed at the Baggage claim.”
The first line is a run-on sentence — specifically, a comma splice or comma fault, which joins two independent clauses with a comma. And the structure isn’t parallel, because if you had “stubs,” you’d have “bags.”
The second line is scarcely better. Does the line mean that you can claim oversize items and oversize pets at the “Baggage claim”? If so, where do you claim the regular-sized pets? Wouldn’t it have been clearer to say, “Pets and oversized items …”? Why is the “B” in “baggage claim” capitalized? When did “Baggage” become a proper noun? And, yes, that “oversize” in the second line should be “oversized,” too.
My first instinct was to blame Continental Airlines for these examples of turbulence hitting the English language. But the baggage carousel Newark Airport got it right: “Many bags look alike. Please match the claim number on your ticket to the tag on your bag.” That “please” was nice, too.
So problem lies not with Continental but with the Massachusetts Port Authority www.massport.com, which runs Logan, and, I guess, its executive director, Thomas J. Kinton, Jr., who hasn’t sent a posse to clean up the mess. A book that could help is Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Riverhead, $14, paperback) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/30/. A former editor of the New York Times Book Review, O’Conner www.grammarphobia.com also wrote the new Woe Is I Jr. (Putnam, $16.99, ages 9–12), illustrated by Tom Stiglich. It offers “jargon-free explanations and entertaining examples (Shrek, Count Olaf, Garfield, and Harry Potter all put in appearances,” School Library Journal said.
I haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Gotham, $11, paperback), but that might do the trick, too. Truss www.lynnetruss.com has also written a children’s book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Matter! (Putnam, $15.99, ages 4–8).
Why not leave a comment if you see airport or other signs that show millions of people – many of them arriving the country for the first time — that America is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Sub-Literate?
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.