Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

Month: January, 2013

Slippery Steps

slippery_stepsI love a computer-printed sign warning people about something — slippery stairs down to the bathroom at a restaurant — that should be fixed instead.

Respect our Staff

respect_employeesHere’s a fave of mine from a few years ago. (I blogged about it a few years ago on my Business Ethics Blog.) I love the polite “please,” combined with an announcement to all customers that insinuates that some (many? most?) customers are jerks.

Don’t Push It

don't push this buttonI love this one. The button is right there, tempting you to push it. But don’t. Thank you.

No Parking

no_parkingThis one is a classic. Simple, straightforward. And combining a pictograph — a big “P” combined with the classic circle/slash — with wording specifying where you can’t park. Not especially interesting. It’s in the alley (or “lane”) behind my house. It’s also adjacent to my laneway (or driveway), which I suspect confuses a few visitors.

Please Line Up Here

I’ve created this blog because I’ve always been fascinated by normative signs. I love the range of ways in which institutions, businesses, policy makers, and others try to get people to do things. Sometimes it’s a command: “No Smoking!” Sometimes it’s a request: “Please clean up after your dog.” Sometimes it’s a reminder of our manners: “As a courtesy to other customers, please…” etc.

So that’s what I’ll document here. I’ll post pictures — mostly ones I’ve taken myself — of various normative signs I spot during my travels, with occasional comments about what makes them interesting.

Just to be clear, I’m not a linguist or a semiotician. I’m a philosopher by training, and I teach ethics at a university. So this blog is only vaguely related to my field of expertise. It’s mostly fun.

Feel free to send me examples. I won’t promise to use them on the blog, but if I do I’ll give you credit. Please send only photos that you’ve taken yourself, so that we avoid copyright issues. Please also let me know where the picture was taken, if that’s relevant. Send pics to: