Mighty Red Pen

August 2, 2011

Clean up on aisle three, please

Filed under: Overseen,Spellbound — mighty red pen @ 7:20 pm
Tags: ,

While on a little stroll in Cambridge, Mass., I arrived right on the doorstep of this conundrum: Is this shop called Erin Cleaners or Erin Cleansers?

Clean and cleanse are synonyms, but as pointed out in Garner’s Modern American Usage, “Clean is literal, cleanse is usually figurative. Hence cleanse is often used in religious or moral contexts.” From Grammarist, “Both clean and cleanse can be used to mean to remove dirt or filth from. However, clean is more often used literally, and cleanse is more often figurative. So cleansing is often spiritual or psychological, while cleaning is usually sanitary or cosmetic.” Maybe that explains why souls are one of the things that they can repair at Erin Cleaners/Cleansers.

The souls/soles mistake is just one of the proofreading errors that could be cleaned up at Erin Cleaners/Cleansers. The other is the confusion between dying (as in not living) and dyeing (when you add color to something). As Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage notes, “If you are using dye to change your favorite t-shirt from white to blue you are dyeing it, but if you don’t breathe for so long that your face turns blue, you may be dying.” And somehow, I doubt they mean that the shoes are dying.

Somewhere, there’s a proofreader dying of embarrassment, but if they say ten Hail Websters, maybe their soul will still go to word nerd heaven.



  1. I have no citations for you to consult, but I believe “cleanser” is simply a New Englandism for “cleaner,” just as “spa” used to mean “soda fountain” and now means “convenience store.” Go figure.

    Comment by Karen — August 2, 2011 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

  2. At least “clean” and “cleanse” are synonyms (as you point out). The second sign is just ridiculous. Great find.

    Comment by laurengundrum — August 4, 2011 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

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