Signs of Disrepair

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Ha! Pawned!

"So if you've got a hankerin',
I'll tell you where to go,
Just look for the busted neon sign
That flashes....Eat at Joe's"

The Folksmen, "Old Joe's Place", A Mighty Wind

A seemingly regular sign (often neon) that, with letters broken or removed, portrays a different meaning. This can be caused by coincidence, or it can be intentional vandalism.

Often used to create or highlight an unintended innuendo.

Examples of Signs of Disrepair include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books


  • Revenge of the Nerds 2 had the Hotel Coral Essex.
  • Max Payne had the game's bad guy bar Ragna Rock renamed as Raglan And Brock with half the letters unlit, leading to the name Rag** n a** * rock.
  • In Batman Returns, Selina Kyle has a neon sign in her apartment that says "Hello There!". After becoming Catwoman, she smashes the o and the T, giving the sign a very different meaning.
  • Done deliberately by the protagonist and antagonist in Shoot Em Up'. After the gunfight, a sign reading "FAULK TRUCK" had been reduced to "F U K U", which was then further modified (by shooting another part of the sign reading "TOOL") to "F U K U TOO".
  • The Abbott and Costello movie Who Done It? features a shootout on a rooftop. A light bulb-illuminated sign reading "VOTE FOR TOWNSEND PHELPS" gets shot up to read "SEND HELP", then again at the finish of the movie to read "END".
  • Tony Hancock's film The Punch and Judy Man, set in a seedy English seaside resort, has a scene where Hancock's title character is shaving just before performing at an important reception at the town hall. His faulty electric shaver shorts out some of the town's illuminations, causing them to spell out insults.
  • Elvira, Mistress of the Dark has this Not Safe for Work accident.
  • A variation occurs in The Dark Knight: The Joker adds an S in front of "Laughter is the Best Medicine" on his trailer.
  • Done offscreen with a submarine PA system in Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
  • In Madagascar, Alex makes a giant HELP to alert ships, but the top of the P collapses, turning it into an L.
  • In 1980s teen film Zapped!, the door to Principal Burnhart's office was regularly vandalised into "Burnfart" -- so regularly that it was mispronounced like that by a teacher once. On the public address system.
  • In The Rocketeer, a fiery Neville Sinclair crashes into the tail end of the famous "Hollywoodland" sign, turning it into the rather more famous "Hollywood" sign.
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture has Voyager 6, which is how the antagonist got its name.
  • Monsters vs. Aliens has a variant on this - Susan, running on the rooftops from the first Gallaxhar robot, goes past a rooftop billboard that presumably advertises accident insurance (the word 'Accident' is very prominent). After slipping off a sloping roof and landing on the street, that billboard is flung past her head and jabbed into a building, with the first few letters 'Accid' still visible. Given the strangely cross-eyed salesman gracing the billboard, this may have been deliberate.
  • Sister Act 2: The name of the classroom, Music Class, frequently has the first two letter of the second word scratched off.
  • The last letter of Motel Hello's sign is constantly flickering on and off, providing the Title Drop for Motel Hell.
  • The Crow 2: City Of Angels included a shot of a neon sign reading "Jesus Saves" with only "Save Us" lit up (well, technically that would be "Us Save" unless you're reading from bottom to top).
  • A store called "Bootery" is actually renamed "Hooters" during the villain takeover scene from Shrek the Third.
  • In Winnie the Pooh, Piglet for some reason has a wooden sign above his front door that is apparently broken, reading "Trespassers Will". According to Piglet, Trespassers Will is his grandfather. The sign, if put together, actually reads "Trespassers Will Be Shot!!!"
  • The tailgate of the |Pizza Planet truck reads "YO", with most of the letters scratched out. According to the truck's operating manual, the truck is actually manufactured by Gyoza motors.
  • Towards the end of Jurassic Park, the mud-splattered jeep reads "Jurassic Park".
  • In the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, Leo discovers the ape holy site "Ca Li Ma" is, in fact, derived from a sign that said "CAUTION: LIVE ANIMALS" aboard his long-crashed ship.
  • In Wyatt Earp, Wyatt puts the "NO FIREARMS IN TOWN" sign back up when he arrives in Dodge. The sign isn't missing any letters, but the bullet holes in it kind of undermine the message.
  • In Zoolander, a local drinking establishment called "The Mine Shaft" is visited; in reflection of it's less than savory, affluent circumstances, it loses the "f" as we watch.
  • Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird has the Sleaze Bros. (F)unfair.
  • By the end of The Avengers, the STARK marquee on the Stark Tower has been reduced to just the A....for "Avengers".
  • Invoked in the song "Old Joe's Place" from the film A Mighty Wind, as seen in the page quote.


  • An old joke from the Wayne and Shuster era: "Labour negotiations have broken down, with management rejecting all of our demands. We have no remaining option. The International Siblinghood of Sign Painters, Local 13, is now officially on strike!" (Workers pick up picket signs, and start marching – STRIKE! STRIKE! STRIKE! Naturally, all of their picket signs are blank.)


  • In the horror story Right Inn, by J. B. Stamper, a traveller with a weak heart has to stop for the night, and the only place nearby is a hotel with a sign saying RIGHT INN, and as soon as he checks in, weird and creepy things start happening... the twist at the end is that it's a theme hotel, but the F has fallen off the front of the sign.
  • The ALLEN ROAD/ALIEN ROAD street sign in the Doctor Who spin-off novel Warhead. (And indeed the owner of the house on Allen Road is an alien, although it's never really explained who kept vandalizing the street sign or how they knew.)
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a reference to a gigantic sign reading "SHARE AND ENJOY" (the advertising slogan of the ever-profitable Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Department). Being too heavy, the sign falls into the underground office block underneath, which is a little unfortunate for the occupants. In the local language the exposed top halves of the letters now appear to read "GO STICK YOUR HEAD IN A PIG".
  • A children's story G. I. Ant describes a group of ants who spot a large house under construction with the eponymous sign out front. They fear that a giant is going to move into that big house, but are greatly relieved when G. I. Ant turns out to be an ant who is building this to house his entire, large extended family.
  • George and Harold of Captain Underpants vandalize a sign at least once a book, usually through a combination of rearranging and removing letters. For example, the first book sees them turning a sign outside a florist's shop from "PICK YOUR OWN ROSES" to "PICK OUR NOSES"
    • Also done in their comic books. For instance, a sign appears to say "BURY DEAD STUFF HERE", until a lightning bolt knocks over the tree covering the top part of the sign, which includes "WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T".
  • In the Soviet children's book The Adventures of Captain Vrungel (and its animated adaptation), the titular captain names his yacht "Pobeda" (Russian for "Victory") -- but due to an accident at its launch, the first two letters in the name fall off its stern, making it read "Beda" ("Trouble").
  • In one of the Dear America books, the main character's cousin comes from a town in Texas called Heart's Bend, except that the B is missing from the sign at the railway station, so it says Heart's end.
  • Inverted in The Dark Tower by Stephen King (the last book of the series of the same name); Dandelo an emotion-eating vampire must allow a street sign warning of his presence in anagram form to exist—but he can deface the sign to read "Odd's Lane", which means nothing, rather than "Odd Lane".
  • "GLO M OF NI T" from Going Postal. The missing letters found their way onto a shop sign labeled HUGOS, without the apostrophe.
  • In the James Bond novel Moonraker, Bond sees a neon sign from a viewpoint that partially obscures it: SUMMER SHELL IS HERE.
  • In This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!, there's a sign outside Miss Scrimmage's school that reads, "Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Young Ladies". Miss Scrimmage accidentally shoots it, changing the word "Finishing" to "Fishing".
  • The sign for the recreation room in Holes actually reads WRECK ROOM.
  • Tongue Fu, a series of short stories in the Whole Earth Epilogue[1] which start as a parody/update of Kung Fu, stars a young monk who, due to the circumstances of his conception,[2] has an Overly Long Tongue.[3] At one point, he uses his tongue to deface the sign over the door of an "AMUSEMENT CENTER", licking away the letters "AMU" and "T" from the first word.

Live-Action TV

  • The short lived sitcom version of The Hot L Baltimore.
  • In one episode of Pushing Daisies, the owner of the candy shop across the street sabotages the sign of Ned's pie shop, called "The Pie Hole", to read "The Pie Ho". Olive and Chuck adopt the nickname when they get revenge: "Don't mess with the Pie Hos!"
  • Happens to a sign during the season 3 premiere of the sitcom Ellen when an earthquake hits Los Angeles. A live on-the-scene news reporter refers to the ruined store as "uy The Book", which, is later followed by an elderly customer inquiring about the new Jackie Collins and giving Ellen the advice of "you know, you should really get a new name, 'uy The Boo' doesn't tell you what (the store) is".
  • Ed owns Stucky Bowl, and vandals regularly steal the T. In the episode that dealt with it, they weld the T down, so the vandals change the sign to "Stucky Bowel".
  • One episode of Brian Clemens' Thriller was set in a motel. At the end of the episode the broken neon sign reads "WOOD HEATH MOTEL.
  • There's an episode of Scrubs where the sign for SACRED HEART HOSPITAL is amended to SACRED FART.
  • In Fawlty Towers, it's done Once an Episode -- the sign saying Fawlty Towers is rearranged to say Flowery Twats, Flay Otters, Fatty Owls, Farty Towels, Watery Fowls and Warty Towels.
  • In one of Peter Kay's TV comedies, a road race starts from Scunthorpe. The town's name is spelled out on a nearby roof, but the first five letters fall off when all the cars tear away. As the mayor complains about it, the "S" falls on his head.
  • Kids Incorporated takes place in a club called The Palace, but the first A on the neon sign is missing, so it's just The Place.
  • Parodied in Between the Lions were a flickering sign outside of Sam Spud's office literally says "Flicker Flicker" (or "Flash Flash", depending on the episode.)
  • In one episode of That '70s Show, Eric, Hyde and Fez vandalize an out-of-business muffler shop, covering the "ler" on every occurrence of "muffler" they see. The next morning Red (who just happened to buy it) was puzzled to see the ads on the walls of the shop changed to "Winterize your muff", "People complaining about loud muff?" etc.
  • The pilot episode of Teen Angel featured a P.A. anouncement requesting that the first two letters from a "Class of '98" sign be returned. The recently deceased Marty then proudly shows Steve the two letters, knowing full well he could never be caught due to his being dead.
  • The building housing JJ's and Emily's therapist in Skins is headed with a sign saying "PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT", which pretty much says everything that needs to be said about how useless they are.
  • In Corner Gas, Dog River has a grocery store that presumably once had a sign that read "FOOD MARKET", but some of the letters have fallen off, making it the "FOO MART", which is what several characters have actually called it on the show.
  • One episode of iCarly involves a lightboard sign (which originally said "PLEASE GO ONLINE TO ICARLY.COM") malfunctioning, leaving just the letters "P E E ON CARL".
    • Officer Carl is not pleased.
  • The Benny Hill Show loved this trope. One example is a group of priests entering an building with a sign that says "Tea Bar", but once they enter the other letters light up revealing the true name to be "Striptease Cabaret".
  • In Green Wing Alan Statham had trouble with people vandalising his badge, it should read "Alan Statham Consultant Radiologist" but on the word Consultant someone blacked out the letters O N S L T A.
  • In the India Special episode of Top Gear, the trio's attempt to promote "BRITISH I.T. FOR YOUR COMPANY" to Indian companies went pear-shaped when the sign ripped in two between the second 'I' and the 'S' in "BRITISH". On the opposite site, "EAT ENGLISH MUFFINS" also had the "INS" at the end torn off.
    • In an earlier episode they had to put sponsorship decals on their entry in a touring car race, but due to BBC regulations the companies had to be fake. They chose adverts for "PENISTON OILS" and "LARSEN'S BISCUITS", carefully positioning them for maximum juvenile humour when the car doors were open.
  • The Discovery Channel Reality Show Monster Garage invoked this trope with its animated opening showing a neon sign for "DAMON STERN'S GARAGE" flickering and finally settling into "MON STER GARAGE" as lightning flashes and thunder rolls behind it.



"How about some French cuisine?" you might ask your spouse
When up ahead you clearly see a sign that says "LE HOUSE"
And whatever may befall me may I never sink so low
As to have to give it up for food and become a WAFFLE HO

  • The cover of Push Barman To Open Old Wounds by Belle And Sebastian depicts a sign at a pub that's been altered to read that way (it originally said "Push Bar To Open").
  • Similarly, the cover of Sebadoh's Harmacy is a picture of a pharmacy sign where the "p" fell off.


  • The title of Lanford Wilson's play The Hot L Baltimore.
  • Jersey Boys has a sign that displays FOUR SEASONS, which when the broken lights are fixed, becomes the name of the protagonists' music group.
  • In Guys and Dolls, the Mission's cross sign is also used for the T in HOT BOX. Without it, it becomes HO BOX.

Video Games

  • In Snatcher, there's a sign in Central Plaza saying GREAT MEALS. It becomes a plot point later on when Gillian sees a sign for Hospital OLEEN, which turns out to be a broken sign reading 'QUEENS'.
  • City of Heroes has the PWN shop in King's Row, seen at the top of this page. Appropriately, it's run by a retired member of the Freakshow, a villain group who name themselves in l33t.
    • The "destroyed future" map has PARAGON CITY HALL.
  • The "Hotel Hell" level in Duke Nukem 3D.
  • The Hotel Coral Essex features in the first level of Pain. Players can fling their avatars into the sign's letters, performing the vandalism themselves.
  • The {S}Hell gas station in Silent Hill.
  • Left 4 Dead has graffiti reading "No zombie is safe from Chicago Ted".
  • Used as a sight gag in Tengai Makyou IV, with a sign reading "King of Lake Tahoe" being reduced to "King Aho" after one of the villains is defeated.
  • In No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, when Travis and Sylvia have sex the NO MORE HEROES Motel sign falls apart, leaving MORE ERO.
  • Grand Theft Auto 2 features churches with neon signs that say JESUS SAVES. The letters flicker to reveal that they're save points (U SAVE).
    • Speaking of Grand Theft Auto, there's a mission in San Andreas that ends with a shot of a billboard, showing a girl drinking a white-colored soda, with the words "A taste of what's to come!" Your out-of-control car crashes through it, changing it to "A taste of come!"
  • Fallout 3 has the town of Arefu, whose name originates from a sign saying "careful".
    • Fallout: New Vegas has the town of Novac. The town's main building is an old roadside motel. The neon sign is mostly destroyed, except for the letters NOVAC in the NO VACANCY part of the sign.
  • A variation from Luigi's Mansion: the file select screen has a message reading, "Welcome to your mansion." Wait a while before selecting a file and the message will fade out and come back with the 'y' missing: "Welcome to our mansion."
  • In Sonny 2, the pawn shop in the Dystopia also has the "a" darkened to spell "pwn". The game lampshades this when the sign is clicked on: "The 'A' is missing, but the sign still gets the point across".
  • In the Bomberman 64: The Second Attack, there is a popcorn stand in the amusement park level with the word "POPCORN" in large uppercase letters. One bomb takes out the second "P", the "C", and the second "O", spelling "PORN" from the still legible letters. Another bomb turns the stand into an ear of corn.
  • Pac-Man's Japanese name is actually "Puckman" (after "pakupaku", the Japanese omonamonapoeia for munching food). The main reason why his name was changed into what it is now in the US is because Namco was actually afraid that the cabinets would be vandalized in a way so that the "P" is changed into an "F."
  • In Deathsmiles IIX, the ferris wheel at the entrace of the Circus of Fear Bonus Level has a sign that reads "Hello-Land". The "o" doesn't seems to be working, leaving us with the true meaning of the stage.
  • A major location in Deus Ex was the Hilton Hotel. Half the sign over the door was out.

Web Comics

  • Sluggy Freelance had an example in the Kesandru storyline, where the house is choked with an unusual number of ghosts: cryptic ghostly graffiti on the wall says "NOTHING DEAD HERE", and it isn't until a character moves the furniture next to it that they realize it was in fact the partially obscured "NOTHING DEAD HERE LEAVES".
    • Another example in the same storyline involves a sign reading 'Brie Meighsaton', (the name of one of the ghosts trapped in the house) being damaged, and Torg puts the M back upsidedown. "Brie Weighsaton". Riff says "Not cool!", Torg asks what a ghost is going to do about it, and she scares him into hiding under his bed. Behold the power of cheese.
  • Freefall: Florence Ambrose, soaked, chilled, and bleeding, searches for a doctor, and sees a broken sign reading "mad Veterinarian". Fortunately, it turns out "mad" is the last syllable of the vet's name, Winston Thurmad, and he's a very nice person.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court knows how to label its doors: this one says "Used Instruments", though it's actually "Cursed Instruments", and the story of the haunted mandolin).

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons has had a few:
    • SLEEP-EAZY Motel.
    • The "Only Bridge Out of Town", which after being blown up, read "BRIDGE OUT."
    • The Simpsons also had a "Buzzing Sign Diner". All letters function, but it is still part of (and a parody of) the buzzing sign trope.
    • One episode featured a flag, which was originally supposed to read "To Fraternal Love". Bart tampered with it, and as a result it now reads "Learn to Fart!"
    • In "The Springfield Files," an already frightened Homer sees a large billboard that says "DIE." He screams. Then the wind shifts, moving a tree branch and revealing that the word is "DIET." Homer screams louder and flees.
    • In "Apocalypse Cow," Homer, disguised as a cow, is transported to the slaughter house mistaking it as "laughter house" due to his disguise obscuring his vision.
  • Futurama
    • The first episode after the show returned from cancellation had Planet Express getting shut down by the "BOX Network", but the "B" on the sign was flickering and sometimes appeared as an "F". (This began an extended Take That/Biting the Hand Humor sequence towards FOX.)
    • In another episode, Bender, wanting to be remembered after he is gone, spray paints "Bender lives large and kicks butt" on the side of a building. As soon as he finishes the building is demolished and then reads "Bender licks butt". To top it off, above the words were a picture of Bender standing with his hands on his hips, which fell into itself to resemble a human's legs and posterior.
  • In Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, the main characters come across a restaurant with a neon sign spelling out 'seafoo.' After the characters muse on whether seafoo is like tofu, the letter 'd' flickers on.
  • In an episode of Danny Phantom, there was an old rundown Hospital called NORTH MERCY hospital, the R, T, and H fell off, spelling NO MERCY hospital.
  • An old Popeye cartoon had him and Bluto in an auto race - Bluto rearranges a sign reading 'ROUTE D' to 'DETOUR', sending Popeye up a rocky mountain road.
  • In Scooby Doo Mystery Inc, Scoob is spooked when a sign for "The Drowsy Gator: Pool, Food and Sundries" suddenly reads "The Dog dies".
  • Casper's Scare School in the pilot movie: "SECRET DREAMS OF THE ORANGE ROOSTER".
  • One episode of Arthur was actually about D.W. accidentally misplacing her backpack at the swimming pool and later ending up with an identical backpack reading TOMMY TIBBLE. She then starts to think that someone named "Omble" actually stole her backpack.
  • In one episode of Bobby's World, Uncle Ted has a boat named The Sea Sprite.

Real Life

  • Novelis, an industrial aluminium manufacturer, was once prone to deliberately extinguishing some letters on its signage during the holiday season, leaving the name as "No_el".
  • For most of the 1990s, a self-storage business on Route 1 in North Brunswick, NJ had a sign on the side of the building facing the highway made of large plastic letters which originally read "PUBLIC SELF-STORAGE", but which had lost enough characters to read "PUBIC ELF RAGE".
  • The National Lampoon print magazine used to run a "true facts issue" which encouraged readers to send photos, like the "_IFFY RESTAURANT" sign on a Jiffy Grill, which were inadvertently humorous.
  1. the edition of the Whole Earth Catalog released after The Last Whole Earth Catalog
  2. midway between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the day before the second of those cities was destroyed by nuclear bombing
  3. Yes, the Power Perversion Potential is fully explored -- this was Hippie Lit in the 70s