Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

Seeking Disabled, Non-Smoking Females?

female_disabled_nonsmokingThis one (submitted by Tracy Isaacs) is from a courthouse in London, ON. It’s noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, its use of the word “female” (rather than “women”) is unusual though not unique.

Second, the combination of signs is interesting: female (with the stereotypical skirt-wearing woman pictogram), and the ‘disabled’ logo, and the ‘no smoking’ logo. When I first saw this sign, I was genuinely baffled as to whether the prescription here is a conjunction or not: is this a bathroom only for disabled women? Or is it for women, including those who are disabled? Tracy says it’s probably the latter, given that it’s the only women’s washroom around, and is of the multi-stall variety. Either way, no smoking!

An Obey the Signs Sign

obey_signs2I love this sign, which is posted near the building formerly known as Maple Leaf Gardens, on Carlton St in Toronto.

It’s a sign that encourages pedestrians to obey traffic signals, which are of course themselves a kind of normative sign. So, it’s a sign telling you to obey signs. Philosophically, that makes it a meta-normative sign.

I have to wonder about the likely effectiveness of such a sign. I mean, if a pedestrian wasn’t already disposed to obeying signs and signals, would they be disposed to obeying this particular sign? Maybe there’s a kind of bootstrapping at play, here: its a verbal reminder to obey other kinds of visual signals. So maybe (another metaphor) it serves to ‘prime the pump.’