Honest Ed-Main BuildingMost cities have their landmarks. In Toronto, we have one that was sold after the death of its owner, Ed Mirvish. A poor immigrant to Toronto in the 1920s, he built a discount store in 1948 that catered to immigrants and the working class, delighting passersby with his funny signs that were based on common English idioms.

I wrote this post about 5 years back, before the demolition of the site and the new condo buildings that are still being built that will replace it. The signs – all based on idioms and wordplay – offer us a great English lesson!

Honest Ed-Bargains leftHonest Ed is never right! And his bargains are never left.

So what’s funny? If English isn’t your native language, it may take you a while to understand. And some languages don’t make jokes in this way – playing with the multiple meaning of words. A pun is a joke that builds its humour on a word or phrase that has two meanings. So this sign plays with the contrast between right and left as well as the two meanings – left side and being left, i.e. not taken.

One thing – having to explain a joke generally makes it lose its humour. So, it may not make you laugh if you didn’t understand it at first but at least you will improve your language a bit!

Honest Ed-Monkey & peanutsHere are some more:

Honest Ed’s a monkey! You can buy his bargains for peanuts!!

People who are mischievous and play tricks, children for example, we often call a monkey. Monkeys like peanuts. But when we pay very little for something and feel like we got a good deal, we say we paid peanuts for it, meaning we paid the value of peanuts, which is very little.

Honest Ed’s all wet!! But he never soaks you! Honest Ed-allwet & soaks you

Here are two double meanings. Being all wet could be wet from water. But the idiom means that the person is completely wrong and saying ridiculous or incorrect things. To get soaked means to get really wet. But the other meaning is to get taken advantage of financially and pay too much money for something.

Honest Ed-Bloomin rose

Honest Ed’s no bloomin’ rose! But his bargains are worth pickin’!

First, if someone says you are no blooming rose, it means you aren’t young (and the implied beautiful). And second, we use the phrase worth picking in reference to anything which is worth taking. And the play on words is related to picking roses.

Honest Ed’s has holes in his sox! But his bargains are darned good!Honest Ed-darned good

Sox is the fun spelling of socks. In earlier years when socks were knit by hand, we used to darn them – meaning close any holes using a needle and wool. We also use the word darn as a polite way to say damn, which comes from damnation (meaning go to Hell.) Since that is not polite, we change the word a bit in order to be able to use it. Other examples of that process are the words fudge and shoot. See if you can figure out what they are replacing!

Honest Ed-squealHonest Ed won’t squeal… He lets his bargains do the talking.

A squeal is a type of cry, like a baby might make when it’s laughing or a pig when you try to grab it. The other meaning is to tell someone something that was supposed to be a secret, especially if it could get them into trouble. And when you let something do the talking, it is similar to the saying “actions speak louder than words.” In this case, the bargains themselves tell you what you need since they are so great.

Honest Ed-heavenly bargains

Honest Ed’s no angel! But he has heavenly bargains!

To be an angel means to be always good. And when we say something is heavenly, we adore it. As if it had been made in heaven.

Honest Ed-flop & flip

Honest Ed’s a flop! But his prices make you flip!

A flop is a failure. This is contrasted with the similar sounding word flip. When something makes you flip, you have a very strong emotional reaction, such as surprise or shock.

Honest Ed-cashew save

Honest Ed’s a nut! But look at the cashew save!!

If you are a nut, it may mean you are insane but usually it means you are senseless or impractical. Cashew is a type of nut but here it is used to replace “cash you” – i.e. look at the cash you save!

Honest Ed-caught with prices down

Honest Ed’s embarrassed! He gets caught with his prices down!!

We have a saying – to get caught with your pants down. It means to get caught in an embarrassing position. This sign plays with that idiom which is why it says Honest Ed is embarrassed.

Honest Ed ain’t upper crust! But his bargain prices save you dough!Honest Ed-upper crust

Uppercrust refers to the highest social class or group, usually the highest of the upper class. (Actually Honest Ed was very poor when he came to Canada and gradually built up his very successful business so he wasn’t upper crust at all!) And the joke is the double meaning of the word dough – one is the flour mixture used when baking bread, pizza crust, etc. and the other meaning is money!