Friday, August 29, 2008

What’s in a Sign?

I love observing signage in foreign countries, it offers yet another window into a culture. The sign on the right is from the metro in Rome, the phrase is translated: “She’s expecting. What are you waiting for?” You can almost hear the tone; Italians do have a way of colorfully making their points! Rarely does a sign strike me as overtly offensive, though this United Kingdom “Elderly People” sign has some individuals calling it stereotypical and negative.

According to London-based magazine, Design Week, the UK’s Department of Transport has “no plans to change the sign,” the sign “is to warn drivers that people with walking difficulties of any age could be crossing the road and may need extra time.” A spokesman for the Highways Agency said, “To change every sign in the country would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds - and a change in the law.” Perhaps such a change is - and should be - a low priority for government spending. The design is based on the winning entry of a children’s competition in 1981.

We share so much with our brothers across the pond, but would a sign like this be acceptable in American culture today? I guess the relevant question is whether the same message could be communicated as effectively in a different manner? The Department of Transport did remove the “Elderly People” placard from underneath the sign in 2003, saying the placard was “ageist.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This doesn't really respond to any points you raised, but I note the figures in the sign look like the adult residents of Hooville (?), the village the Grinch first fleeces and then honors with his carving of the Roast Beast.

Also, usually signs that warn drivers something may be crossing the street are devoted to kids or animals; that is, things that may surprise by their abruptness on the scene. It seems drivers would see the grey beards (is that less 'ageist' a designation?) coming from a distance.

Finally, folks that make up and then use terms like "ageist" (and likely at taxpayer expense) should be punished somehow; at a minimum forbidden from practicing English.