Ahoy, world. Yes, it’s been a while. I do recognise that this post follows on from the last one I wrote, where I said ‘It’s been a while’… While some of you might be thinking, ‘There’s a pattern emerging here’, I’d like to be pedantic and point out that 2 times does not a pattern make.

I’ll get back to all the stuff that’s been happening… soon. But, in the meantime, here’s a mild ranticle on one of the many words that vex me.

Some words just make me mad. Generally, it’s not their fault. ‘Pre-existing’ can’t help that it’s a malformed, redundant worm of a word. ‘Broadcasted’ is just a bit goofy, and still doesn’t really get why it’s superfluous. ‘Orientate’ never even had a chance to get its bearings; from the moment it appeared, critics were furiously smacking it down.

But ‘signage’, no, that’s a pretentious, over-privileged little snot of a word. Little Signage went to an elite school; its parents had bumper stickers letting everyone know that their child was a member of the rowing team, and that they were proud. On the weekend, for breakfast, they’d eat poached eggs served off the back of a swan.

We have a lovely simple word that refers to more than one sign: signs. Why it was necessary to coin a mass noun for signs, I’m not sure. Try it with something else, and it feels pretty silly:

  • Jim, do we have the deskage installed in the new office yet?
  • You know, these shelves really need more bookage.
  • I’m minding my aunt’s dogage for the weekend.

To me, ‘signage’ feels kind of like ‘agreeance’—a word someone uses when they’re trying to sound formal, but they’re actually using a word… that is actually not a word. (If you’ve landed here from Google, you should know ‘agreement’ is the word you’re looking for.)

I’m generally a fan of obscure word formations. I have a friend who’s trying—one person at a time—to get ‘toothbri’ to take off as the plural of toothbrush. I support this, and try to show my support by working his preferred plural into conversations we have. This is hard to do, as I don’t naturally have much case to talk about toothbrushes; sorry, toothbri!

But back to signage…

If you look at the Google N-Gram below, you can see that this word simply didn’t exist for a long time. There were a couple of usage murmurs in 1850, 1870, and around 1900, which were rightly quashed by a community who just said, ‘No, that word is simply ridiculous!’ But around 1965, somebody influential must have published a book with it in it. Then, like a middle-aged man’s midriff, it spread.

N-Gram of 'signage' showing usage rising sharply from early 60s

So, which words make you think dark thoughts? Let us know in the comments, along with Minnie, who has already threatened to comment on this post and tell me how wrong I am.