Grammar Moses: For the want of a period

  • A No Parking sign is almost completely submerged in floodwaters from the Russian River in Forestville, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

    A No Parking sign is almost completely submerged in floodwaters from the Russian River in Forestville, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/7/2020 8:07 AM

The signs, in bold white letters on a red background in the town of Ludlow in Shropshire, England, read:

COVID 19

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

NO PARKING

ENFORCEMENT

IN

OPERATION

In response, some motorists have been parking near those signs, and several have been ticketed.

Why?

Local politico Andy Boddington admitted to the Daily Mail (in a story shared with me by reader Stan Zegel) that the signs were put up in a hurry -- minus some critical punctuation -- to keep the narrow streets of the market town clear. Everything at the outset of the coronavirus was done with some haste, he said.

The intent of the signs was to dissuade motorists from parking in the town square.

Can you blame people for being confused?

"No parking enforcement in operation" tells me that parking attendants from the local constabulary are either on COVID lockdown or on holiday and people are free to park willy-nilly.

In the absence of a sign, I might wonder whether I could park there. But because there is a sign, well, I take it as an invitation.

After much assuredly polite ridicule and complaints from townspeople, local leaders have decided to add a period to the sign, making their intent clearer:

COVID 19

NO PARKING.

ENFORCEMENT

IN

OPERATION

Aha! Now I get it.

Though I'll never get driving from the right side of the car on the left side of the road.

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But thanks to my regular trips to Wisconsin, I bet the next time I visit England I'll be able to negotiate roundabouts a whole lot better.

Oshkosh, to the unindoctrinated, is little more than a series of interconnecting roundabouts. It's a white-knuckle ride to visit Dad and my sister, Jenny, every time.

Get used to it

"Every Sunday I look forward to reading (and most times, learning from) your column, and I've never had any questions for you. Or I guess I could say, 'I use to' not have questions to ask you," writes Michael R. Norris.

"OK, that sounds funny to my ears, but I've always wondered if one writes 'use to' or 'used to.'"

This is trickier than you think, Mike.

"Used to" indicates something that is familiar or once was. Try replacing it with "accustomed to" in a sentence.

Something that is familiar is something you've experienced before, yes? That suggests past tense.

Hence, "used to."

I used to get this column done by the end of the day Tuesday, but now I'm happy to start it by lunchtime on Friday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Now, try using "used to" in a question.

"Did you use to write your column earlier in the week?"

You read that right.

When you use it in conjunction with "did," you typically use "use to."

"We used to go to the movies every Saturday when we were dating."

"Did you use to go the movies when you dated?"

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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