May 8, 2015

Supermarket Irritations, Part 2

Supermarkets usually hang signs over aisles announcing the items found below. The signs are quite helpful, though they seldom list all products in a given aisle. Some intuition is needed on the part of shoppers to find unlisted items.

I can appreciate the need to minimize the text on these signs while still communicating the necessary information. A common abbreviation (or indication of ignorance—I don’t know which) is the use of “can” where “canned” is called for. Tuna packed in a can is canned tuna, not can tuna. (You really cannot make tuna from a can.) In many supermarkets, however, I see signs for “can meat,” “can fruit”—doesn’t that sound delicious—or “can soup.”

Supermarkets are not uniquely guilty of this sort of mistake, though the omission of “ed” in a modifier does not seem widespread. Perhaps the most commonly misused examples are “ice coffee” and “ice tea” for “iced coffee” and “iced tea.” Neither drink is made from ice! In speech, “iced tea” usually is sounded as “ice tea” because of the awkwardness of the juxtaposed “d” and “t” sounds, even for the knowledgeable  speaker. The customer who asks for “ice coffee,” however, has no excuse.

Aisle sign in supermarket
Typical supermarket aisle sign

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