The Old Navy style sheet
Among the "message tees" that Old Navy offers for newborns is one
SPINACH AND <drawing of a carrot>
(This is a white cotton tee, with the lettering in a color Old Navy
labels "guacamole", though the carrot is, fortunately, orange.)
The accompanying ad copy moves towards standard spelling and
punctuation, though the Old Navy style sheet continues to be resolutely
Sweet envelope-neck tees come with
playful messages and appliques. Choose from "Cranky But Precious,"
"Shhhh Baby Sleeping," I Don't Like Potatoes Spinach and Carrots," I
Want Lots of Hugs Kisses and a Teddy Bear," or "I Love Candies
Chocolate and Cupcakes."
(Interestingly, though clothing for newborns is highly gendered, via
choices of color, styling, and topics of drawings and slogans -- you
really can't shop for clothing for a generic newborn, only for a girl
or for a boy -- in this case the message tees are offered for girls and
Where to start? Well, the subtlest point is the use of and
rather than or
under the scope of a
negative. There's nothing wrong with that (in this sentence);
this variant conveys something like 'Here's a list of things I don't
like: potatoes, spinach, and carrots' (where or
would be odd), with its
suggestion that the list is complete.
Then there's the spelling "potatos". In the world in general,
"potatos" is astonishingly common (I just got 913,000 raw Google
webhits on it -- vs. 45,200,000 for the correct "potatoes", but still,
nearly a million ain't small potatoes), often right in the neighborhood
of a correct spelling, as here
Idaho potatos from Sun Valley Potatoes,
supplying high quality Idaho potatos all the way from their field to
Spelling the plurals of nouns ending in o
is a well-known minefield, with
all sorts of nasty details to trap the unwary speller.
On the Windsor Peak child-care
, where this tee-shirt has recently been under discussion (my
thanks to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, for pointing me to the photo
on this site and then to the Old Navy original), the general opinion
seems to be that "potatos" and the missing apostrophe in "dont" were
intentional, a move on the part of the designer to present the wearer
of the shirt as babyishly cute, making learner's errors -- though
someone who goes around in clothes size 5T or smaller isn't going to be
, or for that matter drawing a
recognizable carrot. I'm not so sure; "potatos" might just
be an error, as with those "Idaho potatos", and the missing apostrophe
might be a style sheet thing.
Tee-shirts serve as signs of a kind, like billboards or highway
signs. For some time now, highway signs have been moving towards
a clean, modern, punctuation-free (and diacritic-free) style.
Colons and commas mostly disappeared long ago. That's surely the
source of the comma-free style at Old Navy.
Apostrophes in possessives were the next to go. And now the
apostrophe of negated inflection (a.k.a. negative contractions) may be
threatened. My impression is that "don't" and the like are not at
all common on road signs -- instead, you get uncontracted DO NOT or
other kinds of negatives, as in NO TURNS -- but now I'll be on the
lookout for them.
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at June 5, 2006 03:55 PM