Elanguest is now proudly partnered with EC English Language Centres, Malta.

Did I read that sign right?!!!

In an office:
Toilet out of order….Please use floor below.

Outside a secondhand shop:

We exchange anything – bicycles, washing machines, etc. Why not bring your wife along and get a wonderful bargain?!

Spotted in a safari park:
Elephants please stay in your car!

Seen during a conference:
For anyone who has children and doesn’t know it, there is a day care centre on the 1st floor


These signs above (which, by the way, are actual signs that have been spotted in different parts of the world) are just a few examples of how small mistakes in English can lead to a big difference in meaning. Just imagine the poor maid in the office mentioned in the first example! Or the wives in the second example situation! And what about those happy tourists on safari who have probably spent all their savings on this one adventure holiday…only to be called ‘elephants’ (or risking their lives for that matter)?! Then, of course, there is the classic mistake in the fourth example! Ask any mother who has given birth whether she knows that she has had a child!

So how could anyone have put up signs such as these ones?

One highly likely scenario is that whoever wrote these phrases or sentences was neither a native speaker nor someone who spoke English (as a foreign or second language) fluently – at least I would hope so!
Linguistically speaking, in English sentences, stress is normally placed on content words (nouns, verbs, adverbs or adjectives). This, therefore, means that particles such as articles and prepositions, which are clearly missing in the first example, are not given any stress or emphasis in speech. An untrained ear would not even notice these words, and as a result they sometimes end up leaving them out all together. If the second part of the phrase read ‘Please use the one on the floor below’, it would have been much clearer…and it would have made the maid’s life much simpler! The same thing goes for the third example. Apart from the clear mistakes in punctuation, a simple preposition such as ‘around’ (‘Elephants around. Please stay in your car) would have been way better!
In the case of the second example the main problem seems to be that whoever wrote those signs got carried away with wordplay. The sign outside the secondhand shop is clearly an attempt at a marketing tool resulting from the common belief that wives make their husbands spend a lot of money on brand new stuff. Little did he (or she, but I think it’s a he) know that he was encouraging husbands to sell or exchange their wives!
Finally, the last example is a classic situation of someone who was trying too hard to give detailed (and unnecessary) information. A simple phrase like ‘Child day care centre on the 1st floor’ would have done the trick, however, in this situation the word ‘child’ is being used as an adjective as opposed to a noun. Someone who does not have a very good command of the English language is not always aware of these nuances and this could (very clearly) lead to uncomfortable situations such as the one here.
The main point here is that if looked at in depth, these and other similar examples risk moving from the humorous to the offensive (or insulting) in a matter of seconds – this is especially in the case of non-native speakers of English.


So the bottom line is that if you intend to put up a sign in any language make sure that you:
1. Know the language well AND/OR
2. Get someone who knows the language well to help you out!
This way no one ends up hating their jobs, no one gets sold or exchanged and on a general level no one gets offended or insulted!