Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

Month: April, 2013

Caution: Wild Buffalo

caution_wild_buffaloThis one was sent to me by Paul Gorbould. “Not a sign you encounter every day,” Paul notes. “Unless you live in Seligman, AZ” (where the picture was taken).

And one would hardly think that anyone sane would need to be warned to stay away from large animals with horns. But tourists are not always sane, nor prudent. I guess there are people for whom this is genuinely important advice. Yes, they’re fuzzy animals, but not the petting kind.

No Crocs, Hong Kong Edition

Hong_Kong_CrocsI blogged a sign last month warning wearers of Crocs about the peril they face.

Apparently it’s not just a Canadian thing.

This picture was taken in Hong Kong, and was sent in by Julien Bissonnette. (You can see other Hong Kong signs as shot by Julien here.)

The sign says:

Mind your toes.
Ensure that children in your care keep their feet well clear of the step edge especially when wearing plastic shoes or sandals.

No mention of Crocs, but the image accompanying the words is pretty clear.

“No” Bicycle Parking Allowed

no_bicycles2This is a favourite from outside a low-rise apartment in my neighbourhood. I love it primarily on somewhat perverse aesthetic grounds. It reads:

“No” bicycle parking allowed.
Apt. Mgmt.

What’s so lovely about it? What’s not lovely about it!

First, there’s the unnecessary (indeed, inappropriate) quotation marks around the faded word “no.” Those are for when underlining just isn’t enough.

Next, there’s the old-timey hand-writing. It reminds me of my long-dead grandfather. Given that this is Little Portugal, I cannot help picturing an elderly, diminutive Portuguese Canadian man carefully painting those words.

Third is the fact that the sign is nearly illegible — and whoever posted it doesn’t think it important to fix it.


How wide is your vehicle?

no_wide_vehiclesThis one is from an alley near my home in Toronto. How many people do you think can tell you how wide their vehicle is, in metres?

No Parking: Snow Route

no_parking_snowThis is on a street in Toronto. Most of the lamp-posts along this street have “No Parking” signs. A few of them — maybe every third post — have additional signs saying why you’re not allowed to park there, namely because it’s a Snow Route, a road that gets priority snow-removal during especially big snowfalls.

In general, it’s helpful to let people know the rationale behind important policies, so they don’t fall prey to the assumption that those policies are arbitrary or stupid. It’s often hard to do that with street signs, where the obvious priority is to be brief.


Be Considerate

be_considerateThis one is of note for several reasons.

First, it’s beside the only elevator in a busy, 4-story university building. You can imagine how often this sign is ignored.

The second thing worth noting is the normative wording, the plea to “be considerate.” This frames the underlying injunction as a request to think about the needs of others — in particular, the needs of people with disabilities.

Third, note that of all the categories of people who might really need to use an elevator — the elderly, the pregnant, etc. — the sign-maker has chosen to single out people with disabilities.

Fourth, note that although the sign starts with a plea to “be considerate,” it next goes on to say something more categorical: “This elevator is reserved for people with disabilities.” [emphasis added]

Finally, an anecdote. When I asked at the building’s Help Desk how to get to a particular room, which happened to be in the basement, I was told to “take the elevator down one floor” (and no mention was made of a moderately obscure set of stairs that would also get be there.)

No Entry

No_EntryI love this one, for some reason. It’s on an otherwise inviting door in a university hallway.

Simple. Succinct. Mysterious. What’s not to love?

Paid Parking But Unless Except

complex_parkingThis is at a grocery store near my house. It directs people to pay for parking. And it notes that parking is for shoppers. But what’s less clear is that parking is free if you’re shopping. So I regularly see people standing staring at the sign, trying to interpret what it means, whether it applies to them, etc.

Signalized? Yes, Signalized.

signalizedThis one (from on Queens Quay in Toronto) is interesting for two reasons. One is the odd wording (infinitive, rather than a more standard imperative).

Perhaps more obviously weird is the use of the tragic word (and apparently it is a word), “signalized.” It’s certainly an awkward term, although this online dictionary says that signalized is indeed a word. I suspect very few people seeing this sign know the definition of the word, but I also suspect few fail to understand the sign’s meaning.

(Thanks to Andrew Crane for the picture, and for pointing out the unusual grammar.)

Ban Fracking! (but not gas guzzlers)

ban_fracking_mercedesThis blog is generally about public signs, posted by institutional authorities — governments, universities, business corporations, etc. — to get people to do (or not do) things. So bumper stickers are not really in my wheelhouse. But I’ll make an exception for this one. This was sent by Wayne Norman.

The injunction, here, is to “Ban Fracking.” The message, unfortunately, is somewhat diminished by the fact that the sticker is on a luxury sedan coupe. Of course, being hypocritical is not the same as being wrong.