During the last holiday season–meaning December, not the extended holiday season of December, November, October, September, and late August–my wife and I wandered into a well-known woman’s clothing store, attracted by the sign Everything Half Off .
Prices reduced by 50% were certainly enough of a reason to go into the store, but we were a little surprised when we realized that not everything in the store was 50% off since that’s what the sign outside of the store had indicated. Most items were, indeed, 50% off, but some were 40% off, 25% off, and even regular price. It was upon closer inspection of the signs in the store that we noticed the *, which led to the word Almost at the bottom of the sign, which was written in much smaller font.
We all know what’s going on when this happens. Retailers are deliberately attempting to fool consumers into thinking that they’ll get a better deal than they actually will or that more items are on sale than actually are, and they’re using subtle language tricks as tools of manipulation.
There was nothing wrong with the sale as it was, and the retailer would have drawn as many people into the store by saying Almost Everything 50% Off. The only difference is that they would have been communicating in an honest way.
There are many other instances in which this happens, such as Free Gift in bold letters and a couple of exclamation points that invariably has a with every 50-dollar purchase written in much smaller print below. There are also times when department stores put coupons in the local paper that indicate an extra 20% off everything in the store, including cleareance items *. The asterisk excludes designer labels, housewares, jewlery, and cosmetics.
Here’s some free advice (no asterisk, no strings attached): Don’t fall into this silly trap when communicating or writing. Just be honest!
Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever