July 10, 2006

Don't dare return in under an hour

More evidence, as if we really needed it, that linguists are needed out there. Specifically, in trades such as writing software user interfaces and designing road signs it would be a good thing to have a few more employees with an analytical understanding of language and its interpretation. My friend Avi went to park a rental car in an unfamiliar city (it was Cambridge, England) and found himself looking at the sign that you see on the right. He was a bit intimidated. It looked very much to him as if he was being told first that he could only park there for a maximum of one hour, and second that this was also the minimum — that he must stay away for a full hour, and if he were to return to his car within one hour and try to get into it and drive away, he could be ticketed for that. (Avi is from Israel, and resides in Los Angeles. How is he supposed to know what insane parking regulations might be in force in an arbitrary English city?) I assume that the intended meaning was that you can drive away any time you like, but the car must not return and park in the same place for an hour afterward. Would it really be so hard to devise a sign that expressed that meaning clearly, simply, and unambiguously?

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at July 10, 2006 06:21 PM