Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

Don’t Tread On Us (Up Here)

flowersThis sign says “Do not step on the flowers!!!”, and was spotted in Kyoto.

It wouldn’t be noteworthy were it not for the fact that it is posted above flowers that are relatively difficult to step on in the first place, given that they’re in a raised flower bed (see photo below for context). As always, this one makes me wonder just what the story is. What pattern of balance-beam flower-stomping made this sign necessary? And is someone who is hell-bent on climbing up onto a planter really likely to read and obey such a sign?

Interesting also that the triple exclamation marks suggest a certain degree of urgency.

Thanks to Johan Portström for submitting the photos.

Are Unquantifiable Hazards the Best or the Worst Kind?

unquantifiable_2What’s not to love about the sign in this photo from just outside Bristol, England? The sign is apparently posted adjacent to an area of felled trees and marshy land.

I love the idea of warning of an “unquantifiable” hazard. Of course, many many hazards are unquantifiable, or at least unquantified — after all what’s the probability, precisely, associated with drinking irrigation water or allowing children to pump gas?

It’s also worth noting that most people — or is that just most people here in North America — would have very little idea what the word “unquantifiable” means. It seems rather a subtle point to put on a sign, really.

Thanks to Ursula Wills-Jones for the picture.

Normative Signs Made Funny

spartaFans of normative signs will likely enjoy this:
25 Signs Made Funnier By People (With thanks to NW.)

Pumping Gas Isn’t Child’s Play

IMG_9694I spotted this sign on a gas pump in Pennsylvania.

I can pretty readily imagine the pattern of events that must have led to it being necessary to post such a sign. After all, if a 12 year old is pumping gas, he may not be mature enough to remember not to smoke while doing so.

I like the verb mood being employed. Is that the optative mood? I’m not sure, but the sentence structure is surely one seldom seen in everyday conversation but pretty common in legal documents. Adding to the legalistic tone is the fact that they’ve decided to go with “dispense gasoline” rather than the more colloquial (and clear) “pump gas.”

I also like the slightly madcap printing of “DANGER DANGER DANGER!”


People who appreciate the Normative Signs Blog will likely also appreciate this:

33 First-World Anarchists Who Don’t Care About Your Rulesreclining_lawn

Don’t Drink WHAT?


This “DO NOT DRINK” sign is adjacent to Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica, CA.

At a distance, it looks like an injunction not to consume alcohol in the park (or maybe at all). Closer-up, it turns out to forbid drinking water — irrigation water — that presumably few people want to drink anyway.

There’s actually a lot going on in this sign, normatively. It signals the City’s feel-good focus on conservation. There’s also the vagueness of the reference to “recycled” water. (Um, greywater? Sewage? Runoff?) Then there’s the vagueness regarding whether the do-not-drink rule is a health thing (if, e.g., the “recycled” water is sewage) or a water-conservation thing.

Overall, a slightly weird sign.


No Smoking Anywhere.

tobacco-freeThis sign is posted on the gate of a school in Claremont, CA. It apparently forbids all smoking anywhere in this universe or any other.

See also “The Law of the Excluded Middle.”

Did it really need to be said?

shoes_wallHere’s one of those often-fascinating custom-printed-after-the-fact signs. It was posted in a building housing professional offices, in a town in Virginia.

The sign is baffling, at least to those of us who don’t happen to know the history. I always love looking at signs, and imagining the day when finally someone just couldn’t take it any more and felt compelled to word-process and print a sign…and then tape it to a wall with blue masking tape.

I also love the extravagant politeness, in which I detect no sarcasm nor suspect any.

(Thanks to Thea E. Smith for sending the picture.)

Fake London Underground Signs

always_pressNot all of these are normative signs, but if you’re interested in normative signs, you’ll like these:

“Someone has made fake London Underground signs, and whoever did it is a ruddy genius.”

(Thanks to loyal reader Maxime Desmarais-Tremblay for sending the link!)

Caution: Don’t Have Fun


Given the exuberant pictogram, this CAUTION sign (on the campus of Duke University) looks like it’s cautioning against something a lot more fun than slipping and falling.

Thanks to Wayne Norman for sending the picture.


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