Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

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.

Is This What They Mean by “Canon Law”?

cannon_lawThis photo was taken at Queen’s Park (home of the legislative assembly for the province of Ontario, Canada).cannon_law 2

Ad Fail: Hemorrhoid Treatment Goes “Oral”

I don’t normally post ads, good bad or indifferent. But this one I just spotted is too hilarious, and too awful, not to post:

There are certain words that should just never, ever be used together. “Hemorrhoid” and “oral” are two such words.

Bikes May Use Full Lane

full_lane1This sign in South Beach, Fla., asserts (or perhaps clarifies) what is true but little-known in at least some jurisdictions, namely that bikes are vehicles and are entitled to take up an entire lane of the road if they want to. (I’m assuming without knowing for sure that that’s the case in Florida just as it is where I live in Ontario, Canada.

As a cyclist, I think the sign is pretty cool.

But why have a sign explicitly giving permission that the law gives on streets anyway? Well, presumably precisely because it’s a little-known legal fact.

The only odd thing is the placement. This sign is on a post that is…well, in the middle of the sidewalk, where it’s more likely to be seen (and hard to avoid) by pedestrians.
In fact, as you can see from the final picture, given the width of the sidewalk and the placement of the sign, pedestrians literally have to step around the sign post to get by. So while cyclists can use the “full lane,” apparently pedestrians can’t.

Dogs Must Be Carried

dogs_must_be_carried2This sign is posted on the side of an escalator at Manchester airport in the UK.

As the sender of the photo pointed out, it’s a very odd thing to require that one carry a dog in order to be allowed to use the escalator, especially given restrictions on bringing dogs into the UK. A passport surely must be carried. But a dog?

But of course, what it really means is “those who have a dog with them must carry their dogs rather than letting the dog walk up the escalator.” But that’s rather a lot of words for a normative sign, isn’t it?

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it’s also the source of a lot of ambiguity.

dogs_must_be_carriedThanks to Wayne Norman for sending the photo.


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