As a respite from our more usual attempts to create somewhat “esoteric,” essays on humanity, ethics and society, we have elected to project, for this singular writing, a somewhat, humorous, but accurate, context, highlighting a scarcely noticed, and never editorialized subject, to wit, the unexamined linguistic content of ordinary public signs.
There are countless visual subjects, one encounters, on a daily, routine and regular basis, inclusive of public notices, advertisements and signs, the latter, merely noted, as dimly seen objects, perhaps, appearing exclusively in one’s peripheral vision. This phenomenon makes available for consideration, a retrospective, focused, glimpse, at such subjects, like public signs, as a proper source of closer, observational analysis.
The routinely, unexamined and unread language of public signs, may, conceivably, contain (unintentionally) flawed, even humorous or possibly, obscene content, unnoticed by its lax promulgator, yet, mercifully, attaining, undeserved, optical forbearance, as being unremarked by the stated relegation, to one’s peripheral vision.
We did promise a bit of humor, and will deliver the promised commodity, by reference to various, personally, viewed, examples of bizarre, sign literature, but, after the following remarks about the especially notable talents, of the maestros of the art.
When we refer to the subject of authorship, we not dealing with studied and revered, creators of fine literature, poetry or aesthetic art. The literature of public signs, we are inclined to assume, is created by the devotees of the same esoteric school of fine art, as the writers of holiday greeting cards. The latter creative geniuses, are populated by writers of pathetic doggerel, whose assigned goal, on Valentine’s Day, is the enhancement of romantic love, but who, in reality, accrue the effect of the exponential enhancement, of commercial sales of Pepto-Bismol. (See: Valentine essay, “Bulbs and True Love”).
Before we review the unwittingly created, humorous works of art, credited to this class of august literati, we would make a serious observation, concerning a misleading, oxymoronic message, of many banks, insurance agencies, sellers of merchandise, and membership soliciting, advertisements. The very sight of that publically advertised, purported statement of generosity, “Free Gifts,” causes in us, a feeling of personal revulsion, annoyance, and at times, even anger. The artless, intentional, snake-oil, inducement, to do business, appears, virtually on advertisements on the avenues, on television, in newspapers and pamphlets, and seems to be almost universal. Yet, the commonly understood and incontrovertible, significance of the word, “gift,” is the delivery of something, (perhaps to signify an occasion, a relationship, or otherwise) without payment. If the word, “gift,” necessarily denotes a delivery of something, without any exchange, what then can the “generous” public offer, of “free gifts,” possibly, mean? To us it means, that these multitudinous advertisers intend to entice and intentionally, mislead, the consuming public.
Returning to our titled theme, we would observe that the number of artlessly, worded public advertisements is so great, that we have chosen, for reasons of practicality, to cite, a small, but representative, number of typical examples:
At roadside, a prominent sign, fronting, a gas station, which, also features food machines, “Eat Here, Get Gas; The multitude of signs that state: “No Smoking Allowed” which logically, may be read, to mean, that it is permitted (“allowed”) not to smoke, thus, in fact, encouraging smoking; the many signs that read, “Help Wanted, Inquire Within,” which can be taken to mean that to get personal help, you should be introspective;the sign, “We Bake Our Own Bread,” seen the other day, on the Upper West Side, made us question, “Whose bread, alternatively, would they, properly, be baking ? At a large restaurant, “Reservations Accepted,” seems to mean that it will pay close attention, to the undecided, or disappointed, patrons? Notices, using the strange words, “Finger Food,” really sound, like a warning against a pet store’s snapping turtles; “Baby sitting,” could imaginatively, suggest a societally disapproved, alternative, to soft cushions [ what is wrong with, Baby Minding Service?]; A detached sign, at the winter coat section, of a child’s department store:” Little girls, fully lined,” The Notices on most construction site walls:” Post No Bills,” never do specify, the prohibited monetary denominations! [ What’s wrong with, “No Posters!”]; on the window of a lunch bar: “Self Service Inside,” admittedly, with a little stretching, sounds like the establishment’s proclaimed, franchise for a blowhard or prevaricator to continue his rant, but, necessarily, on the premises.
Based upon the foregoing, it conceivably, might be of interest, for the reader to take particular notice of, and closely read, his ambient signs, for purposes of possible enlightenment, and, perhaps, some unexpected diversion.
* Our sincerest apologies, for this title, to Jane Austin, author of the great, Victorian Novel, “Sense and Sensibility.”