Decoding incorrect signage
Posted on November 13 2015
We’ve all seen them, they’ve basically ascended to cult the cult of internet fame. Signs that say ‘no wheelchairs on the ramp’, ‘party smash vegetables’, or ‘if you are stolen call the Police’. They’re all innocuous accidents, signs that are put through into English with little checking process, creating funny, rude, and sometimes incomprehensible signage. But what makes them so funny?
Being around Hong Kong recently, and as someone who can’t read Chinese characters, I walked past the above sign. Wondering why it captured my attention, I stopped to look at it for a bit, trying to figure out why signs - something that is ever present but never acknowledged - became the subject of hyper awareness and spectator consumption. I think that’s probably where the hilarity arises. Signs are used to notify people of certain areas, restrictions etc, which fade into the back of our mind. Your subconscious becomes responsible for processing them, and you’re never truly actively aware of how many are around you. But all of a sudden, when something is wrong with a sign, maybe it says ‘careful please slip and fall down’ instead of ‘Please be careful not to slip’, you stand in awe, laughing. You wonder how something so pervasive – the sign – could’ve slipped out into the public and be so obviously wrong.
The sign I saw was outside a construction site, and upon closer inspection you might, like I did, laugh at it at first and then realize that it does actually make sense, it’s just a bit peculiar and roundabout in its phrasing. I think part of the allure and laughable nature of these signs is wondering what the original could’ve been. Especially when expletives are involved, the mind can come up with hundreds of potential originally intended meanings, but without knowing what it actually was, you’re stuck with the ‘meat fried plate’.