Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

In which the author finds beauty in how people tell other people what to do.

The Reward for Carelessness

Peggys_CoveThe reward for carelessness? Injury and death. In this case, it’s no exaggeration. This photo was taken at Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, in Nova Scotia. And people have been swept out to sea by the waves, here, and perished.

But the wording of the sign is so lovely. Read it out loud. You almost can’t avoid saying it in whatever you conceive to be the stereotypical sea captain’s voice.

Thanks to Brandon for the photo.

Normative Signs to Disobey

tea_specialistI usually stick to original content, but this is too good not to share: Rules Just Begging to be Broken

No Diving. Seriously.

No_divingI’m amused by normative signs that include graphic depictions of serious physical injury. I guess they’re intended to be persuasive by means of the scare factor. But I find them amusing.

This one is from a swimming pool — a uniformly shallow swimming pool — at a hotel in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Do Not Block My Words

do_not_blockThis message is written on a garage door in Toronto.

Hard to tell if it’s a hand-written normative sign over graffiti, or the other way around. But I walk by it regularly, and I kind of love it. I believe the home-owner has written over the graffiti. But I love that the owner’s message is only barely more “official” looking than the graffiti. The net result is art.

Is this a normative palimpsest? Or a pentimento?


A Sign for Dogs? “Do Not Drink”

reclaimed_water_3This was taken at Peet’s Coffee, in Cotati, CA. Does the person who posted this sign have a sense of humour, perhaps? Or does he or she truly worry about patrons drinking from the toilet? Is this establishment frequented by dogs who can read?

(A further alternative, I suppose: is the posting of such a sign an overly literal application of a regulation of some sort stating that any reclaimed water needs to be “labeled”?)

The picture is by Rich Way, via Thea Smith.

reclaimed water

Good advice 43 floors up

Tie-off-2File this one under “obviously good advice.” This sign is posted at a construction site, 43 floors above the streets of Toronto.

Rather amusing that the specifics — 100% tie off beyond fence — are written so small as to be practically a footnote.

Thanks to Eric Fruhauf for the photo.

Please Do Not Flush…

no_flushingThis one comes to us from the hallowed halls of McGill University.

It is unclear just how official this sign is, but how emphatic it is is less unclear.

The point it makes is no matter of mere manners: it’s a serious pragmatic point about the frailty of plumbing systems (especially, I dare say, at a venerable institution like McGill, where a lot of the buildings are well past their ‘best-before’ date.) But I wonder how much of that serious point is undercut by the jokey reference to not flushing the NY Times?

Thanks to Prof. Jacob Levy for sending the picture.

Do Not Freeze

do_not_freezeThis one is more of an instruction than a normative sign, but its content reflects good advice given the low temperatures here in Toronto today, so I’m posting it.

Thanks to my former student, the mystery man known as “C”, for sending me the picture.

Taxis and Normative Density

taxiTaxis are (increasingly?) an example of what I like to call a “normatively rich” or “normatively dense” environment. In other words, they have lots of rules, and lots of signs to make you aware of those rules. This is perhaps not surprising. Taxis are semi-public spaces, often owned by a company, driven by a driver under contract, and ridden in by a constant stream of random strangers. You’re going to need some rules. Uber, of course, may disagree.

The picture here was taken inside a taxi in Palm Beach, FL.

I do love the range of normative injunctions, here. Buckle up (presumably for safety). No eating (presumably to keep the cab clean). And no drugs (presumably a question of law).

No Foul Play

foul_play_poolI’ve generally avoided signs that make fun of poor translation into English by people in non-English-speaking countries. But this one — posted at an apartment building in Dubai — is pretty fun. You’ve got to admit, the injunction against “foul play” is intriguing. OK, yes, it’s likely just a translation error. They’re thinking of “rough play” or roughhousing. But still.

Of course, they probably DO want to forbid violent crime. But if so then it’s odd to bury it in between a rule forbidding food and drink in the pool area and one saying that kids under 12 need to be accompanied by an adult. Someone might miss it, in the heat of the moment.

Thanks to Christopher Yorke for sending me the photo.


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