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Public Rótulos and their Dubious Ortografía

Hand-painted signs and sales boards can provide artistic flair and sometimes amusement, but spelling is not one of the sign-writers' fortés

Spanish Pinpointed

One of the concomitants of Mexico’s large informal economy is a large number of hand-painted signs, and these provide indisputable public evidence that spelling —ortografía— is not one of the sign-writers’ fortés.

Spelling it out for sign-writers

The practical thing to do when making a sign for a shop or even a street stall would be to go to the professional sign-makers; these are usually themselves small businesses that display the word rótulos somewhere out front. It’s not necessarily a guarantee that the sign will be spelled correctly, but in the event of a mistake it can be taken back and complained about.

However, people who are bad at spelling usually either don’t know they are, or don’t care, at least if the many opinion forums and comments left at the bottom of news articles online are anything to go by.

It’s not limited to the street stalls and markets, or thousands of mini business establishments. People who work in large offices find the same thing, and although spellcheck may alleviate some of the symptoms, it could also contribute to perpetuating the cause.

Some examples of dubious spelling

Common spelling errors in Spanish are the use of  ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ or ‘c,’—and vice-versa; the mixing up of the ‘v’ and the ‘b’—which are pronounced more or less the same; and double ‘l’ for ‘y’ and leaving out the silent ‘h.’

For example:

  • No Estacionarce (No Parking) instead of No Estacionarse
  • Embases (containers) instead of envases (one Spanish rule is that ‘m’ always goes before ‘b’, and ‘n’ before ‘v’)
  • Fivra de vidrio (fiber glass) instead of fibra de vidrio
  • Sacamos torniyos instead of tornillos (we remove screws)

There isn’t really anything funny about other people’s spelling mistakes, although some of the signs can be amusing, particularly the unusual ones.

One thing bears some thinking about as you make a mental list of misspelled signs: do we derive a secret enjoyment from other people’s spelling mistakes because they don’t know how to spell, or because we do?

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