Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No Outside Food

In Singapore, signs like the above are very common.  You’ll find them in restaurants and cafés whose owners, perhaps understandably, want to restrict the use of their tables to their customers.  In this context, the term outside food refers to food bought elsewhere, i.e. not from the restaurant or café displaying the sign.  It may also be used as an antonym of home-cooked food.

Among campaigners for good English in Singapore, there is a sense that the above message is non-standard and hence to be discouraged.  The following sign appears to be an attempt at expressing the same message in Standard English.

I am not entirely sure that this is an improvement, for it does not sound very idiomatic either, i.e. not something a native speaker (however you choose to define her or him) would say.  Perhaps it is necessary to recast it more radically, as any one of the following (or variants thereof):

These tables are for the consumption of food purchased/bought here only.
These tables are for our customers only.
Only for the consumption of food purchased here.
Only for food purchased here.
Not for the consumption of food bought elsewhere.

You’ll probably agree that this little exercise is a good example of a cure being worse than the original ailment!  Note that, by comparison with any of the above, the original message, No outside food allowed, is beautifully concise, precise and immediately comprehensible, at least in Singapore.


Anonymous said...

Indeed, the solution is worse than the problem. My suggestion for the cure: 'Food from outside not allowed', as both ‘outside' and ‘elsewhere’ refer to a source or location. The use of ‘outside’ is preferred, as it gives a stronger contrast in reference to the ‘inside’ of the premise.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in England and it was not uncommon to see "No outside food allowed" displayed there. I really do not know what was wrong with it. Okay it's not beautiful English but it conveys a clear message.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

"I used to live in England and it was not uncommon to see 'No outside food allowed' displayed there. I really do not know what was wrong with it."

That's interesting; I lived in England for eight years (1995-2003) but don't remember having seen this before. I'll keep my eyes peeled for this on my next visit. But yes, it's to the point and personally I don't see anything wrong with it really.

Anonymous said...
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Ludwig Tan said...
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thenakedlistener said...

The first sign "No outside food is allowed" is correct. Indeed, the "is" is optional. The reason is that the sentence constitute an imperative. This is how most imperatives are constructed in English in the UK. "No way out." "No talking in court." "No parking." "No entry to unauthorised persons."

In Hong Kong (where I am based now), we have EXACTLY the same problem that Singapore has. More's the pity.

Ludwig Tan said...

Thanks, thenakedlistener, for your very interesting perspective.