The Fix-It Police #5: Symbols and Simplicity

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In our Fix-it Police series, we’ve done a lot of work on things we’ve found that are concretely wrong. Misused commas and apostrophes, for example, are grammatical concepts with finite rules, but stylistic choices are decidedly more complex.

This week, let’s look at DQ’s campaign for what they call a “$5 Buck Lunch.”

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Here, we understand that the explicit message DQ wants to say is “five buck lunch.” However, because of the dollar sign symbol, the message inevitably reads “five dollar buck lunch.

Clearly, we only need one or the other: either the dollar sign or the term “buck” since they define the same concept. However, why may a business want to use one over another, and why may a business want to use both?

Let’s look at the pros of both. A dollar sign is widely recognizable and requires no reading or lengthy consideration; it immediately registers as “dollar.” It is, moreover, general and works for any price, from the very inexpensive to very pricy.

The term “buck,” however, is often used to emphasize the lowness of a price. Often, we’ll see the word tacked onto the end of any price deemed small (“the fries are only a buck!”) or an excellent value (“the pillows are on sale–four for only twenty bucks!”).

For a business, both are worthwhile options to choose. However, the term “buck” is less immediately recognizable than the dollar sign, so for DQ, perhaps they consciously chose both to doubly benefit their campaign, despite the fact that the title does read as “five dollar buck lunch.”

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