January sales – retail crimes (against English)

Poster for 'epic sale'It’s the time of year when you expect to see garish posters outside shop windows advertising their latest reductions.

But I’ve noticed that it’s not enough these days just to use the word ‘sale’ to entice shoppers: you need to go one better than your neighbour in describing the extent of the savings.

Sometimes, you describe a sale as an ‘event’ – generally, the retail trade’s equivalent of ‘solution’. Sometimes, you reach for the adjectives.

This year I saw an ‘epic’ sale. Then, over the road, another retailer was shouting about its ‘massive liquidation sale’. In small print, it added ‘making way for fantastic new stock’. But that was obviously not enough to make up for the fact that its customers are more literate than whoever thought up the slogan.


All it needed was a short visit to a dictionary, where they would have discovered that ‘liquidation sale’ has a specialised meaning that isn’t ‘big’.

I felt sorry for the poor sales staff, who were forced to put a notice on the counter stating that they were not, in fact, closing down.

'Not closing down' poster


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