Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ambiguous signage in words and pictures

Things have been crazy busy lately, so blogging has been a bit sparse. However, here's a few signs I found around the Boston area that struck me as interesting for their ambiguity. First off...



This sign posted outside a fence to a lumber-yard features a line I've noticed more and more around here, which is "Police Take Notice." What initially amused me about the sign, and this phrase in particular, is that this can be read in two ways.

The first, what I assume is the intended way, says something along the lines of "No Tresspassing. Police will notice if you do."

The other interpretation is directed at the police: "No Tresspassing. Hey Police, that means you! Stay out!" I just pictured some guy with no shirt, overalls, and a shotgun looking out at his lumber hoping no cops come around.

Here's the other sign, from a street post:



This one is clearly trying to prevent domestic abuse, fairly clearly stated by the text. However, the image can be a little ambiguous. Given that only two hands are shown without connection to other bodies, it is technically unclear whether they belong to the same or different people. The different readings give very different interpretations.

Again, starting with the intended view, they belong to different people. The fist of one person is being stopped by another person — the illustrated stopping of the fist of domestic violence.

However, if you perceive the two hands as belonging to the same person, it seems like the common gesture of one person grinding or punching their fist against their own open hand as if itching for a fight. This gets just the opposite meaning, since it implies a desire/threat for violence.

2 comments:

Erin said...

It's a subtle difference, but the initial way I interpreted the "police take notice" sign is that it's *directing* police to take notice of trespassers.

Neil said...

Oooh... that's another good one. So:

1. Police will take notice if YOU trespass.
2. Police, don't trespass!
3. Police, please take notice of trespassers.