Signify

Art. Lebedev did it again: Короче. The title means “Shorter”.

You don’t need to know Russian to understand what he says there. The road sign at the first picture says:

DRIVER! FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS AND TURN ON THE DRIVING BEAM OF THE HEADLAMPS

The second picture says:

— Lights and seat belt!

Lebedev doesn’t just say that road signs should be shorter. He emphasizes the use of proper typography, which is not just nice, but practical too. In books the dash introduces direct speech, so when the driver sees it, he feels that someone is actually speaking to him and makes him want to do something in response. Proper use of capital and small letters instead of all-capitals makes the sign more easily readable, which is crucially important, ‘cuz you don’t want to make driving harder.

Lebedev doesn’t say much about the exclamation mark, but as a linguist i’d like to add that it is there because it has to be there, because a sentence that starts with a dash just has to end with something. It’s similar to the -es in the sentence “He goes to the bar”: textbooks say that the -es means “third person singular”, but in fact the He is the sign of “third person singular”, and the -es is there simply because the sentence “He go to the bar” would not be considered proper English by most people.

In the USA almost all road signs are just written in English in very short and standard sentences: “SPEED LIMIT”, “STOP”, “FOOD”. It’s not as beautiful as Lebedev’s proposal, but i do think that it is rather practical, because the driver doesn’t need to learn a hundred or so pictograms, like it is in most countries. It has one drawback: The driver has to know English.

2 Responses to “Signify”


  1. 1 Dmitri 2007-08-09 at 19:21

    Hah, it’s funny. The only problem: ремень (belt) brings up associations of corporal punishment. Now [b]that[/b] is something that Artemiy didn’t think of! :)

    Here’s an alternative:
    –ФАРЫ ИЛИ РЕМЕНЬ!
    This would mean “turn on headlights or you get the belt”.

  2. 2 aharoni 2007-08-09 at 21:19

    Nice. I didn’t think about it until you brought it up.

    I’m probably too far from the time when THE BELT scared me. Note, however, that the message would be wrong. He might have liked the association – Lebedev is very keen about associations; but he wouldn’t knowingly write something Wrong, even if it’s cute.

    Plus, don’t take typography lightly: Lebedev would need a very good reason to write in all-caps and he would never, EVER miss the space after the direct speech dash.


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