Dot Wordsworth

Mind Your Language | 4 June 2005

A Lexicographer writes

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I have been enjoying in a way a book my husband gave me for my birthday called Shop Horror (Fourth Estate, £10). This compilation by Guy Swillingham of colour photographs of the ‘best of the worst in British shop names’ shares something of the spirit of Martin Parr’s Boring Postcards, which were, of course, not boring at all.

For some reason, hairdressers are particularly given to adopting painful puns. There is Ali Barber’s at Leyland, Herr Kutz at Warsash, Hants, Barber Blacksheep in Brighton, Director’s Cut at Wombwell, Best Little Hair House in Hereford (in Hereford). These are lopsided puns, for there is no necessity for the shops to be run by Ali or a German, or a black sheep of the family, or a cineaste or a retired madame.

Even more contrived hairdressers’ puns include Hair O Dyenamix, at North Finchley, which is desperate, and Right Hair, Right Now, in Hove, which is insistent. But Scissors Palace, in Leeds, might almost escape notice as a pun, and there is not much to be gained from British Hairways, which is in Millhouses, Sheffield. Sheffield seems quite a treasure-house of appalling fascias. A fish shop there (another avocation fond of punning) is called Battersea Cod’s Home, for, though it is not in Battersea, it does batter cod from the sea.

Other Sheffield names include Kumquat Mae, and Wok’s Cooking (a Chinese takeaway), to go with Wok and Roll (Oxford), Wok This Way (Grantham), and Wokaholic (Norwich).

Useless puns are no disqualification, as Thai Tanic, a Belfast restaurant, shows. What do they mean ‘Tanic’? Then, in Solihull, you may find Beau Thai, which ought to insist on evening dress.

Some puns tend towards the disreputable. Bloomin Chic in Penwortham, Lancs, is all right for a florist’s, and Junk and Disorderly in Hanwell will do for a junk shop, but The Prawnbrokers at Addiscombe might make you wonder if they should be taking possession of your fish in return for money. Our Soles in Newbury is cheerfully vulgar, but Wet Dreams Watersports at Gypsyville in North Humberside takes public relations to a strange level.

Negative associations were no dissuasive for It’s Curtains for You, in Merseyside, or the fast food shop in Hove simply called Burger Off. The po-faced local newspaper wrote: ‘The name implies either the food is unfit or the customers are unwelcome.’ But the proprietor, Mr Nick Gambardella, says: ‘Up north you buy beer and take it away. You call it a “beer off”. So I thought “Burger Off”. It seemed to work.’