On my default walking route — past roadrunners and cottonwoods and hawks, oh my — I pass a big blue donation box for clothes and shoes.  It’s for some charity, or wants us to think so, at any rate.

Misspelled sign on charity donation box

In some jurisdictions there are differences between nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations, but these need not concern us here.  What need concern us, arbitrary hyphenation aside, is that there are no “non-for profit” organizations.

While I don’t rule out ignorance or simple sloppiness as the guilty party here, I think it equally possible that this error stems from the most pernicious form of compromise known to humans: group editing.  Having worked in communications — one of those tricky fields in which everyone figures they Know Better, even (or especially) when they don’t — I can almost taste a conversation that led from “not-for-profit” through “non-profit or nonprofit” to “non-for profit.”

So, as I say, there aren’t any non-for profit organizations.  Well, there weren’t.  But that can change.

The one-L lama,
he’s a priest.
The two-L llama,
he’s a beast.
And I will bet
a silk pajama
there isn’t any three-L lllama.
Ogden Nash

As some fire chief is reputed to have said in response to this poem, his team had responded to many three-L lllamas. Hahaha.

That’s how punny usages get started: by people using them.  That’s how sloppy, or illiterate ones and homonym confusions get started, too. Knot for profit, anyone?

But what happens by accident or misunderstanding can also happen on purpose.  I’m going to strike a blow for confusion that is at least semantically elegant: Yes, it’s naught-for-profit from hereon for me.



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8 Responses to Naught-for-Profit

  1. Tom Watson says:

    It’s also possible that the sign has nothing to do with group editing. Could it be that the bin wasn’t placed there by any legitimate people? In which case, we wouldn’t necessarily expect those folks to be really skilled at hyphenation etc.

    The address just includes a place and a zip code. Could be for anybody in Freemont, CA.

    Not long ago I read of a bin being placed in the corner of a large parking lot. It was later learned that it wasn’t from a legitimate charitable organization at all.

    That doesn’t alter your point, but…well, just sayin’.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Yeah, it’s unsettling. Although it doesn’t specify the charity,the box itself looks well and expensively made. Not sure whether that supports the charity or the rip-off argument.

  2. Ian Hepher says:

    Or you could say, under a particular circumstance involving a failure to give charity to a biblical figure, that the organization was naught-for-prophet.

  3. I vote with the folks who suspect skullduggery. The label strikes me as deceptive. Why not state simply the name of the organization? Not for naught was this grammatical anomaly pasted on the donation box.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – 🙂 (That’s for the not for naught.”) As for your main point, it doesn’t take too many cases of fraud for us to become rightly skeptical/suspicious of everyone we don’t know. And, of course, in big cities, we don’t know our neighbours, individual or organizational.

  4. Jim Taylor says:

    You wrote, “most pernicious form of compromise known to humans: group editing. Having worked in communications — one of those tricky fields in which everyone figures they Know Better, even (or especially) when they don’t — I can almost taste a conversation…”
    AMEN, sister.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – 🙂 I expect interior/graphic designers often feel the same way. I don’t suppose nuclear physicists do. Makes you wonder if there’s a categorization system for occupations that looks at this aspect.

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