Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 16, 2018

Signifying; Rhetorical Analysis at the Traffic Light

One of an ongoing series of posts about signs — sign posts.

I pass one of those storage space rental facilities nearly every day, a mile from home on busy Western Avenue. They display this sign:

Shredding Brad Nixon 0876 (640x305)

Stopped at a traffic light, no other thoughts in my head (apparently), I wondered about the construction of that sentence. Wouldn’t the ordinary speaker of English simply say, “We Shred Paper?” Hemingway would, you can bet. But, so far as I know, Hem never wrote sign copy.

At least it was grammatically accurate. The mere presence of the “to be” verb indicates fluency as a native speaker; many businesses here in multicultural, multilingual La-La Land might have a sign reading “We Shredding Paper” or “Shredd You Papers Here,” not to mention “Trituramos Papel” (perfectly appropriate in much of the metropolis).

This is what happens after too many years spent parsing and examining obscure phrases in books. Everything becomes fodder for the linguistic shredding of rhetorical analysis.

The more I considered it, the more I liked their present continuous tense construction; it was immediate, compelling. We’re not simply standing by, waiting to shred paper, should any be presented. It’s not mere capability to be employed at some indeterminate point in the future. Brothers and sisters, we are shredding, right now. There’s a sense of urgency, because although we’re shredding now, we may not be shredding when you’re ready. It’s happening, so if you’ve got paper to shred, get it in here!

Extremely influential, insanely well compensated advertising agencies have been paid astronomical sums of money to construct far less persuasive messages. We can all think of examples. To wit: “No one doesn’t like Sara Lee” (except perhaps the three people who actually bought and consumed “New Coke” before it was taken off the market).

Just before the light changed, I’d concluded that scruffy little building might harbor the great advertising genius of the 21st Century. Perhaps the next David Ogilvy, who galvanized advertising in 1951 with his “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt” campaign featuring a devil-may-care-looking fellow rakishly sporting a black eye patch:

Hathaway ad (430x561)

(a style and tone played upon fifty years later to immensely good effect by “The Most Interesting Man in the World” beer campaign).

The light changed and just as I started my left-hand turn I noticed another sign beneath the shredding banner.

Shredding - boxes Brad Nixon 0879 (640x463)

Now, darn it. Why settle for a pedestrian, off-the-shelf sign with a phrase in simple indicative present when they may be sitting on the greatest bit of marketing rhetoric since … well … sliced bread? Why does it not say “And We’re Selling Boxes, Too!”?

So much for parallelism.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Hathaway shirt ad is someone’s copyrighted property. Hathaway closed its factory in 2002, but intellectual properties should be assumed to be in some successor’s possession and should not be used for any commercial purpose.


  1. Parallelism in writing structure has the same fault of symmetry in art: it may be perfect, but it’s a little boring. The eye sees it instantly and the brain quickly moves on.

    Ah, but throw in the anomaly, the unexpected, and it gives us pause. We have to stop and compare, to re-evaluate. See, the two signs did their job admirably. You not only had to stop, but you even wrote about it. Bravo!


    • So, is it “I write blog posts” or “I’m writing blog posts?” Thanks.


      • Either one! But just change the second sentence so it’s not parallel with the first. 🙂


      • I’ve always been partial to the future perfect. If there were an infinite amount of time in this life, I’d write a novel in future perfect: I will have written a blog post. Our current legislators live in future perfect tense: “We will have done something about automatic weapons in schools ….” (conditions to be named later, after they check with the NRA).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Perhaps the same person or group isn’t doing both the shredding and the selling. While the shredders, that wild and crazy crew, do their thing, the box sellers sit on the sidelines with pursed lips and crossed ankles.

    A musical analogy comes to mind: Jimmy Page as the shredder, and Perry Como as the box seller. It works.


    • In all the world, with its billions of people, many of them on the Internet, clicking away, I suspect that you are the only one on the planet who’s constructed an analogy combining Jimmy Page and Perry Como!

      Liked by 1 person

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