Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

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.

Hand Washing & Normative Density

hand_washing_wordcloudYou don’t see this kind of normative density every day. It’s a sign posted on the mirror in the bathroom of a Toronto office building.

Notice that the sign is in the shape of a hand — itself a universal (?) normative sign meaning “STOP!”

And the sign is also basically one big word-cloud, consisting of words related to hand-washing and sanitation.

Thanks to Barbara Secker for submitting the photo.

Normative Forfeiture

IMG_4058This sign is posted by the lineup for a small roller-coaster at the Canadian National Exhibition, in Toronto. It says “No Saving Space in Line. Leaving the line forfeits your spot. Thank you.”

A couple of interesting things, here. First, “No Saving Space.” It rings odd, because in most circumstances, “Saving Space” is a good thing. When packing for vacation, you leave bulky items out of your suitcase to “save space.” Etc.

Note also the use of the word “forfeits.” Is that a widely-understood word? (I’m a professor, and I would be cautious using that word with, say, junior students. It seems like an upper-level bit of vocabulary.) I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that word on a public sign in North America.

Note finally that this is not a rule that anyone of the workers at the roller coaster is liable to enforce. It’s just a statement of…well, it’s an assertion of not just a rule, but a kind of moral truth. By doing X (leaving line) you cause something to happen (namely, you have caused yourself to lose a certain status, that of the legitimate owner of that place in line).

Something Must Be Worn On This Site

construction copy

Normativity: you’re doing it wrong.

This sign suggests that something — something — absolutely MUST be worn on this construction site. But it won’t reveal just what. Agonizingly, it provides hints. Hard hats? Safety boots? Gloves? Vest? Hearing protection? But none of the check-boxes is actually checked off, so we’re left to wonder.

Should a visitor wear all of them (just to be safe…literally!) Or none of them, because after all none of the boxes is checked?

(This was posted at a residential construction site near Ossington Ave., in Toronto.)

Please See Hostess

see_hostessIs this South Carolina restaurant not an equal opportunity employer?

OK, so fine. Casual observation (over several visits) does confirm that the people who have hired to seat customers do all happen to be women. So the sign is accurate in the directions it gives. But is that the sort of thing you really want to entrench in your normative signage? Is this place denying the possibility that it might ever hire a dude for such a job?

I’m not whining about reverse sexism, here. I just find the wording odd.

Is the use of the word “hostess” really necessary? What about “maitre d'”? For that matter, isn’t “host” pretty close to gender neutral (the way some say “actor” is)? Or would that just prompt me to post the sign and register the opposite worry?

The food is delicious, by the way.

Turning vehicles must attempt awkward game of charades

Yield-2-pedestriansThis one is a hot mess. It’s practically a goddam brain-teaser.

Look at that thing!

It’s got a bent arrow (a very literal way of referring to turning vehicles, I guess) and then some English words (turning vehicles), (but why? for emphasis?) and then a yield sign (a well-known traffic sign), then another small bit of English (“to”) and then a pictogram of a pedestrian.

Presumably it is supposed to read “Turning vehicles [must] yield to pedestrians.” But actually reading it requires the reader to use 3 different coding systems. Reading this sign is like interpreting someone doing a very awkward bit of charades, or someone making up their own very literal version of American Sign Language.

The sign is posted on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.


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