Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

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

Month: February, 2014

Don’t Drink WHAT?


This “DO NOT DRINK” sign is adjacent to Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica, CA.

At a distance, it looks like an injunction not to consume alcohol in the park (or maybe at all). Closer-up, it turns out to forbid drinking water — irrigation water — that presumably few people want to drink anyway.

There’s actually a lot going on in this sign, normatively. It signals the City’s feel-good focus on conservation. There’s also the vagueness of the reference to “recycled” water. (Um, greywater? Sewage? Runoff?) Then there’s the vagueness regarding whether the do-not-drink rule is a health thing (if, e.g., the “recycled” water is sewage) or a water-conservation thing.

Overall, a slightly weird sign.


No Smoking Anywhere.

tobacco-freeThis sign is posted on the gate of a school in Claremont, CA. It apparently forbids all smoking anywhere in this universe or any other.

See also “The Law of the Excluded Middle.”