Dr. Know: Unnatural Foods, Rules of the Road, and the History of Happy Holidays


The Kroger at Surrey Square Mall has an attractive natural foods section. A while back, though, they moved things around without updating the signs. The shelf labeled Soda contains energy bars. Fitness displays chocolate milk. It’s been this way for more than a year. Am I the only person who’s noticed? —UNDER A BAD SIGN

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Bad:
From time to time it becomes necessary for the Doctor to remind readers that he is not a muckraking investigative reporter. Scandal, be it as minor as government embezzling or as massive as grocery-shelf mislabeling, is best directed to those who are “on your side” or who insist that team is spelled with an I. This caper, however, was irresistible.

Do not wonder if you are alone in noticing the store’s glaring oversight: You are. The Doctor’s visit to the Customer Service counter elicited wide-eyed surprise. Closer inspection confirmed your assertion that this outrage has existed for far too long—one of the offending signs sported cobwebs.

History has shown that when the Doctor does choose to bravely uncover corporate malfeasance such as this (past Pulitzer-worthy stories exposed misspelled street and business signs), the atrocity gets quickly fixed prior to publication. Next time you visit the Surrey Square Kroger, breathe a silent “thank you.”

Road construction this year has been bad enough, but the finished projects confuse me. The highway’s white lines are no longer of uniform length. Some suddenly become much shorter, almost like dotted lines. Do I have to go back to driving school? —WHITE LINE FEVER

Dear Fever:
A standard joke about Cincinnati is that events happen here five years after they happen everywhere else. Therefore, the new regulations in the 2012 Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices have arrived right on time.

Variations in highway line lengths are addressed on Page 390, Section 3A.06. Lanes that approach an exit or that allow entry are now indicated by “noticeably shorter” lines. To make sure you understand, let us quote the manual’s clear and efficient description: “Normal width dotted white lane line from upstream end of full width deceleration lane to theoretical gore or to upstream end of optional solid white line lane.” Got that?

The shorter lines let drivers know that a new lane is exclusively for exiting or that it contains entering cars that are probably about to play chicken with you. Perhaps the next edition of OMUTCD will be even more helpful, requiring all highway speed limit signs to display the legal miles per hour along with “wink wink” under the number.

As we approach this year’s “War on Christmas,” I wonder whether expressions like “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” were once a rarity, as some claim. Did Cincinnati retailers really say “Merry Christmas” more often in years past than they do today? — SEASON’S BLEATINGS

Dear Bleatings:
Ah, an infinitely preferable assignment to investigating signage on grocery shelves. Without claiming to be scientific or comprehensive, the Doctor has spot-checked December ads in old Cincinnati newspapers and finds that Christmas has been under sustained attack here for generations.

As far back as 1885, Mabley & Carew was sneering “Happy Holiday Bargains.” In 1931, the epithet “Season’s Greetings” was flung by those out-of-control liberals at The Christ Hospital. Good Samaritan spewed the same profanity the following year.

Christmas Eve of 1950 brought condescending wishes for “a joyous holiday season” from Pogue’s department store and “a little child shall lead them” from Shillito’s. “Merry Christmas” did manage to dominate the real estate ads.

The Cincinnati Reds, who in 1954 had changed their name to “Redlegs” so as to not be confused with the Godless Reds of Soviet communism, changed their name back in 1958. No surprise, then, that by 1960, they were sending suspicious “Greetings for the Season” to all.

By 1967, McAlpin’s had retreated to “A Happy Holiday season,” but Shillito’s had upgraded to a full “Merry Christmas.” The notably pious and closed-every-Sunday Swallen’s befouled themselves in 1968 with “Happy Holidays.” This year, then, the Doctor shares the greetings of Tiny Tim with our readers: “Non-specific deity bless us, everyone!”


Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Submit your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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