Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mangled English

Part 2 of a Potentially Infinite Series

If you live in the right part of northern Colorado, once or twice you may well have driven past an establishment called Fantastic Cut’s, nestled away near that store that sells all the used sporting goods and the other place that’s full of all sorts of hobby crap and has been getting remodeled for the last fifty-six years. The sign outside of Fantastic Cut’s—which was established in 1998 by local entrepreneur “Fantastic” Ernie Cut1—is easily recognizable, right down to its unfortunate apostrophe, to anybody familiar with Fantastic Sams, a chain of haircut salons with over 1,400 locations across the United States and Canada. 

Whether these two organizations are actually associated with one another, I don’t know and won’t bother to find out. They do, however, have one thing in common2 in that their logos—probably their most noticeable and effective means of advertising—don’t tell us what they’re intended to.

I described that apostrophe as “unfortunate” because, as any snotty English graduate3 will tell you, apostrophes used in this way indicate possession,4 which means that you don’t have any way of knowing, from the sign, what kind of Cut one would receive from Mr. Cut at Fantastic Cut’s . . . but you sure do know who owns the place: the sign tells you that the store is owned by Fantastic Cut.

Fantastic Sams has a similar problem, except in reverse and compounded by inconsistency. Fantastic Sams was founded in 1974 in Memphis, Tennessee, by a guy named Sam Ross.5 Based on the nationwide success of his hair salon franchise, Sam was indeed fantastic, and was, before his recent death, almost certainly wealthy enough to buy a lifetime’s supply of proper punctuation.

Judging by the company’s website and the majority of official graphics, coupons, advertisements, and storefront snapshots found in a half-assed web search, however, that wonderfully appropriate apostrophe has been or is being phased out in favor of a mistake, for reasons we can’t quite figure out.

Top: Hooray! Bottom: You suck!

This suggests either the marketing or the accounting department determined that making the company look illiterate would be good press or a money-saver. The newer signs suggest that you go to Fantastic Sams to buy a fantastic Sam.6 What it doesn’t tell you is who owns the place, or after whom it’s named.

This isn’t the first time I’ve griped about dumb misuses of English, and it’s not likely to be the last. And the next time I get called a “Grammar Nazi”—an awfully offensive phrase, in my opinion—will not be my first. But before you chime in with the name-calling, please consider that I’m not criticizing people for failing to grasp something extremely complex, like aeronautical engineering or quantum physics, or some other field that requires years of experience and usually multiple advanced degrees.

Instead, I’m criticizing people for failing to grasp or refusing to care about a simple and direct concept that was first introduced to them in grade school. Concepts that are taught in grade school are introduced because grade schoolers can understand them. If you haven’t figured out something as a grown-up that you were taught when you were eight—tying your shoes, simple math, thorough wiping, how to eat with utensils, or the simplest and most fundamental rules of a language that you've been reading, writing, speaking, and hearing nearly every hour of every day for the vast majority of your life, shouldn’t you expect a little criticism?7

1. All historical and biographical information made up on the spot.
2. In addition, that is, to providing haircuts, shampoos, and waxing; presumably stocking similar magazines; and having the same basic floorplans—so they actually have several things in common. But I’m not talking about any of the rest of these, because I can’t find a good reason to complain about them at the moment.
3. Like me.
4. Mathematically, when P = possession, P = Law x 0.9.
5. This part is actually true.
6. If you want to get technical—and I usually do—it suggests that you can buy multiple fantastic Sams. But it’s not implied anywhere that you need to buy more than one. And if you really need more than one, how fantastic can they really be? They’d have to call the place “Barely Adequate Sams.”
7. Yes.


  1. lol dont even get me started on bad grammer. it drives me nut's Bcause people dont even no there own language. its like, go back 2 school, right?


  2. So . . . you are trying to kill me with this, right?