Cenrtal Philadelphia

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This new sign at the intersection of Cottman Avenue and State Road has gotten a lot of news coverage:

A complete and accurate account can be found here, but my favorite coverage is this:

In fact Chester is a nearby town, but I like the stable hand story better.

Update — Fixed now…


  1. Victor Mair said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 6:35 am

    How did it happen?

    1. It's not the easiest thing for an English speaker to deal with three consonants all jammed together.

    2. It's easy to mix up "n", "t", and "r" when typing because they're all clustered together in the same area of the QWERTY keyboard and are all typed with the index fingers.

    In fact, I've made the identical error (*cenrtal) many times.

  2. S Frankel said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 7:19 am

    The r and t need to be closer together, but I don't see anything else wrong with the sign. Glad to see that kerning is finally getting its due.

  3. KeithB said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 7:47 am

    Kind of like this marketing presentation for the new Pentax film(!) camera:

    It talks about easy film "roading", though on the same page it is spelled correctly.

  4. David Arthur said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 10:16 am

    Is the abbreviation 'Phila' a normal thing to see on signs around there?

  5. BZ said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 10:56 am

    @David Arthur,
    "Central Phila" (without the misspelling) is common signage for highways leading to Center City including I-95, I-76, and I-676. I don't know how common "Phila" is outside road signage. Certainly "Philly" is what people tend to say in conversation.

  6. Jenny Chu said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 10:57 am

    Chester is a city. West Chester, an unrelated municipality to the north of Chester, is a town (technically a borough).

    Fun fact: West Chester used to be called Turk's Head, before the war.

  7. Tom Dawkes said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 11:06 am

    Road sign writers have a hard job: see https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2015/01/malta-takes-subliteracy-to-new-levels/

  8. BZ said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 11:13 am

    @Jenny Chu,
    I'm interested in what you mean by "the war". My first instinct was World War II, and my second guess was the Civil War. But Wikipedia says it was renamed in the 1790s, so I can only guess you mean the Revolutionary War, but I've never heard it called "the war" before (unless it was in works of fiction that took place in the 18th or early 19th centuries maybe)

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 11:13 am

    One of my childhood friends from Northern Delaware who still lives there reacted to this story with a social media post saying "We did it first!" and referring back to this unfortunate signage incident: https://6abc.com/misspellings-typos-delaware-avenue-i-95/11311783/

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 11:20 am

    Further to Jenny Chu's point, Chester is not merely a "city" rather than a "town" in a technical sense – some U.S. states have municipalities with fewer than a thousand residents that are "cities" in a technical sense. Chester is or was a "real" city, even older than Philadelphia and with its surviving colonial relics mixed in with the fallen-into-ruins evidence of its 20th century status as a major industrial center. It is a city that has fallen on hard times, suffering both economic and demographic collapse (population per 2020 census less than half of what it was in 1950) and all of the accompanying Rust-Belt-urban-decline phenomena like extraordinarily low-performing public schools and corrupt politicians. Now the sort of place that most people want to drive through on the interstate as quickly as possible rather than stop in. All very sad. Some of the other nearby municipalities along the river retain a certain down-and-out raffish charm (like Marcus Hook, which I think is technically a borough), but I'm not sure Chester even has that. By the time I was growing up nearby it was already a mess, but some of the kids I grew up with had parents who remembered better times there.

  11. Richard Hershberger said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 2:38 pm

    "Phila" is an old-fashioned abbreviation for Philadelphia. You can see it on 19th century letters and in addresses on envelopes. For modern signage, I suspect it feels more formal than would "Philly." "Philly" in turn goes back to at least the mid-19th century. A quick newspaper check turns up an item about a fire company visit from West Philadelphia to Reading, with "the West 'Philly' boys".

  12. Roscoe said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 2:43 pm

    It’s just as bad on the West Coast:


    (Last I checked, you could still see where they’d covered up the “a” with an “e.”)

  13. maidhc said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 3:33 pm

    An old-fashioned style of abbreviation is to end the abbreviation with the last letter of the original word. Like "Chas" for Charles and "Wm" for William. Also "Pa" for Pennsylvania.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 3:58 pm

    @maidhc: And once upon a time you saw "Penna." for Pennsylvania in lieu of the terser "Pa." "Penna." was already pretty much obsolete in my own childhood, but one saw it from time to time in older documents and perhaps in the continuing usage of older folks. I think my grandmother (the one who lived in the Pgh. area, born 1903) may have used it, but my memory on that is not super-clear so let's call that a 50% probability.

  15. Viseguy said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 5:30 pm

    @maidhc: And, in old handwriting, the last letter was often made superscript, or superscript underlined. As in, for example, the numero sign.

  16. David Morris said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 7:00 pm

    Many years ago a similar sign in Sydney (Australia) was spelled 'Liveprool'.

  17. Chas Belov said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 11:59 pm

    I've lived in Philly and Pittsburgh, although I've been long gone from both. I don't remember "Phila" but I do remember "Penna." I think the latter went out when the Post Office issued their two-letter state abbreviations. I remember pretty much always saying I was from Pittsburgh, Pee Ay.

  18. Allan from Iowa said,

    June 26, 2024 @ 8:50 am

    Even after the 2-letter postal state abbreviastions were introduced in 1963, I remember seeing in the fine print on boxed food: "Reg. Penna. Dept. Agr."

  19. Robert Coren said,

    June 26, 2024 @ 9:36 am

    Re: "Penna.": Also "Penn." Before the Post Office standardized to all two-letter state abbreviations (in ugly capitals) there were a lot of such abbreviations wandering around on envelopes and postcards all over the country: Mass., Conn., Ark., Okla., Calif. (also Cal.), etc.

    @Jenny Chu: And netter of them is to be confused with Westchester, the county directly north of New York City.

    As to West Chester being north of Chester, in Massachusetts we have Norfolk and Suffolk counties, the former of which is almost entirely south of the latter.

  20. David Marjanović said,

    June 26, 2024 @ 12:28 pm

    In fact, I've made the identical error (*cenrtal) many times.

    The question is not at all how people manage to write such things. It's how they manage to look at such a sign and mount it anyway. How many people needed to see that sign and not notice anything before it actually went up?

    It does make me wonder if dyslexia is more widespread in English-speaking places because the English spelling system is just that bad.

  21. Richard Hershberger said,

    June 26, 2024 @ 2:28 pm

    The question is not how many people saw this before it went up, but how many people in a position to do something about it. I can easily imagine many people noticing, but having previously had it made clear to them that they were to stay in their lane and do what they were told. Think of how companies bring in outside consultants. The good consultants are the ones who figure out what all the workers already know and package this in a way that management will listen to.

  22. Andrew Usher said,

    June 27, 2024 @ 7:53 am

    I agree that it's almost certain someone noticed before the sign went up. And, yes, decided not to mention it even though that would cost more because of the need to replace it. But with and knowledge or understanding of the usual working worl, it's not surprising: even though I assume in this case mentioning it would not get one in trouble, workers learn to avoid anything that may – and that not saying anything (unless it's part of your authority) always does. Yes, this is dumb and inefficient, but it's the current facts.

    David Marjanovic once again misunderstands America and/or the world of work outside academia – because it's just so much easier to say that Americans are stupid! Never mind that it makes no sense, given what we've accomplished; never mind that we are really the same people as Europeans. This brings to mind a point from the AI thread: it's a stereotype among Americans that we're far less bureaucratic than Europe, and among Europeans, especially German, that they are far more – neither is very accurate nowadays – and both ignore that the sheer amount of bureaucracy is not the only possible difference, but also how rational it is – none can be perfect, but it's hard to imagine anything less rational than the American system that still functions at all.

    And the English spelling system is comparatively bad (compared to other alphabetic languages) but it's strange that the obvious reason for that is never mentioned – that English lacks an official regulating body like European languages do. Those are famously ignored most of the time when they step into vocabulary and grammar, but in spelling their rationalising decisions prevail.

  23. Jenny Chu said,

    June 28, 2024 @ 5:10 am

    "The War" that anyone refers to is always the most important one that happened there.

    In the case of West Chester, Pennsylvania, the last war affecting it was the Revolutionary War; the Battle of the Brandywine happened around there and Valley Forge is nearby. In the Southeastern United States, when they say, The War they tend to mean the Civil War. In Poland, it's WWII.

    Interestingly, I once visited Bedford, Pennsylvania, and found that when they talked about The War they meant the French & Indian War; a young officer named Colonel George Washington was then stationed at Fort Bedford. (They claim that even though Bedford is named as the site of the later Whiskey Rebellion, that actually happened down the street somewhere – I want to say Shelbyville, but you get the idea – and people always say it happened in Bedford because that was the only municipality of any size in the area.)

  24. Jenny Chu said,

    June 28, 2024 @ 5:11 am

    @Robert Coren – by the way, if you haven't seen Gary Gulman's comedy routine about state abbreviations, it's a must watch:


  25. Andrew Usher said,

    June 28, 2024 @ 7:43 am

    Not necessarily – 'the war' in English today normally means WW2 without any contradicting context. At least I've always used it that way, and been understood. But in the case where you used it, I assumed WW1 because that's the only one that actually involved Turkey (Turk's head …)!

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  26. Philip Taylor said,

    June 28, 2024 @ 8:02 am

    Andrew — « 'the war' in English today normally means WW2 without any contradicting context » — when used by most native English speakers. But when my wife (for example) speaks of "the war", she is referring to the American war against the Việt Cộng — she is a fluent English speaker, but not a native English speaker.

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