The family of blondes had planned their vacation for months and were very excited about going to Disney World. After two long days of driving, they were almost at their destination. Then, just ahead, they saw a big sign: "Disney World Left."
Disappointed to the point of tears, they turned around and drove home.
The wonderful complexity of the English language can make using the right word challenging enough when you have whole sentences and paragraphs to work with. When you only have enough room for a handful of words, on a sign or in a headline, it can be even harder to say precisely what you intend.
When I was in high school, there was a sign near our mailbox that read "Slow School Bus Stop." We were never sure exactly what it meant. Was it a bus stop for a slow school, a stop for a slow school bus, or a slow stop for a school bus? At least that sign wasn't as bad as the ones that announce so unkindly: "Slow Children Playing."
A couple of recent headlines in our local paper point up the difficulty of communicating clearly in small spaces. One read, "Chicken Rules Needed." As someone who used to have to gather eggs from cranky hens who didn't want to give them up, I wholeheartedly agree.
One with a little more drama was "Lions plant trees with fourth-graders." It would seem to me that shovels might be more efficient, but hey, they're lions. If I start challenging their tree-planting strategies, the next headline might read, "Lions plant nitpicking editor."
When you try translating from other languages, of course, the chances for error are greatly increased. When my partner was in Mongolia a few years ago, he ate at a restaurant that offered him a menu in English. One of the featured items was "Roasted Chicken Spit." Considering the difficulty of collecting enough for a meal, the price wasn't as high as one might expect.
Last week, though, in a residential neighborhood in Spearfish, we saw an example of abbreviated communication that was refreshingly direct. At the top of the post was a sign reading "Dead End." Below it was a second sign with an arrow pointing to the left and one word: "Cemetery."
It may not have been tactful, but at least it was clear.