November 29, 2006
An open letter to Marvin Mann, Manager of Giant Food Store #35 on Oakhurst Boulevard in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (known to locals as “the Linglestown Road store”):
It’s that time of year, Mr. Mann, when I am in your store three or four times a week, sometimes twice a day. No matter how extensive my lists nor how careful my planning, when I get into my holiday preparations I find that I need another sack of flour right now or that someone ate the maraschino cherries that were set aside for cookies.
I was in the store tonight, happy to find that raspberries are Buy One, Get One Free, so I can justify trying out a quick bread recipe touted as just right for gift giving. And Melitta coffee was on special too, so I bought an extra can. Alas, there was no Diet Dr. Brown Cream Soda (the food of the gods). I have a mail order source for that, but it’s at twice the price the Giant usually has it.
It was while I was trying to decide just how much I need Diet Dr. Brown Cream Soda to get through these busy days that I walked back toward the deli (where I’ll soon be ordering my party trays to the tune of about $125) and saw, with great dismay, the sign, obviously professionally-produced and meant to be permanent. It reads:
Italian for “sandwich”
Sigh. Heavy sigh. Mr. Mann (and the manager of the Union Deposit Road Giant and the one beside Barnes & Noble in Camp Hill), “panini’s” is NOT “Italian for sandwich.” It’s not Italian for anything. It is not English for anything either.
Let me explain (as I did in writing when I saw the first of these orthographic monstrosities in the new Camp Hill store last year). Panino is the Italian word for “small piece of bread.” The plural is panini. The word is often used to denote a sandwich made from a ciabatta (the word for “slipper,” a reference to its elongated shape), a small loaf of bread that is split, filled with meat or cheese, and then toasted. (The Italian word for “sandwich” in general is tramezzino.)
“Panini’s” makes no sense. The word “panini” is already plural. What you are selling are panini. If I am alone and wish to order lunch, I will ask for a panino, a single serving. Adding an apostrophe and an s to the end of a word in an attempt to make a plural is often done by poorly educated writers or those who are in a hurry. Usually it results in something that looks like it should be a possessive but often doesn’t work in context. Your sign maker should have used “paninis,” although I would wince at that as well. Would you say “spaghettis” if you’re out of your baby talk phase, or “linguinis,” or “raviolis”? I think not.
What is most disheartening in this matter is that I wrote to the corporate office in Carlisle last year when the problem first appeared at the new Camp Hill store. After all, we are not talking about a sign scrawled in magic marker by the kid in produce receiving who wants us to know that “pumpkin’s are here!” We are talking about an expensive, professionally designed and professionally produced sign obviously intended to be permanent. I received a reply thanking me for pointing this out and assuring me that the problem would be corrected. Obviously that did not happen, and Giant Foods continues to put what is certainly a significant amount of money into signage that just looks ridiculous. (Do your other specialty shop signs say “Meat’s” or “Fruit’s”?)
I have been a steady customer of Store #35 since it opened nearly thirty years ago. I will continue to patronize your store at least through this holiday season, because where else do I see so many of my friends, and because my Gaudete Sunday Open House menu is built around the deli’s fajita trays and the produce department’s fruit and vegetable trays. (Note the correct use of the apostrophe-s in my last sentence.) But I have a feeling that I will soon become a regular Weis Market shopper. It’s only a few more miles up the road, and I’ll bet they don’t sell “panini’s” there.
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margaretdeangelis [at] gmail [dot] com (replace the brackets with @ and a period)