News of the Weird Personal

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign…

Continuing the wind-down from vacation… (Don’t worry; the Orac-ian magnum opus-style posts will return whenever I manage to work my way back up to them again. Besides, it’s a holiday; do you really want to read one of my rants today?)

One of the cool things about wandering around London was hearing and seeing the differences in language use between Britain and the U.S., differences which led to the famous saying about America and Britain being two nations divided by a common language, a quote that has been attributed at various times to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, or even Winston Churchill. It goes beyond the difference in accent or spelling (i. e., “colour” versus “color” or ” hospitalised” versus “hospitalized”). Some of the differences in language use are subtle; some amusing (I still hear that voice from the Tube telling me to “mind the gap” in my sleep sometimes), and some just puzzling (calling an overpass a “flyover,” for example, given that no flying is done, except in extremely bad car crashes that involve falling off the overpass). After about a day in London, I started noticing signs. It started with this one at Covent Gardens:


I liked the sound of using the word “till” instead of “cash register.” After that, I started noticing other signs and photographing the interesting ones. (Mark posts photos of breathtaking natural beauty; I post photos of signs. Perhaps next weekend I’ll post some other photos from my trip.) For example, I saw this one at Victoria Station:


“Muster point”? It wasn’t clear at all from the sign exactly what passengers were supposed to be mustering for or, for that matter, where. I assumed it was the nearby archway. In any case, I wondered if this sign was a holdover from World War II that someone never quite got around to removing. It sounds rather more military than we’re used to here in the U.S.

Then there were signs that were rather more honest than anything I’ve ever seen in the U.S.:


I can’t picture any American community openly admitting that thieves are operating in an area and warning tourists. The police and government would be too worried about scaring away tourists. To me it was refresing. Personally, I was grateful for the notice and kept a close hand by my wallet whenever in an area where I saw these signs. Unfortunately, I saw them in more areas than I would have liked.

Some signs were rather more polite and detailed than I’m used to here in the States:


Busking,” by the way, is nothing more than what street performers do. As for the parking meter sign, in the U.S. it would just say “broken” or, more likely than not, nothing at all.

Here was a rather helpful sign I saw near the Tate Britain:


You’d never see a sign like this in the U.S.

When we visited the Tower of London, we saw a couple of oddities. First, how did the Colonel manage to invade the Tower?


In fact, U.S. fast food seems to be everywhere in London now. There were three Starbucks, two Subways, and a McDonalds within a block of our hotel. I kid you not. I was half tempted to try the McDonalds just to see if it was any different than in the U.S., but thankfully restrained myself. The other oddity at the Tower of London was this one:


Yes, one way to go to the bathroom, one way to see the ravens. (If you’re not familiar with why there would be a sign leading to ravens at the Tower, an explanation can be found here.) And, of course, if you have a baby, a visit to the Tower of London wouldn’t be complete without a visit here:


It sounds so much more civilized that “diaper.”

But my all time favorite British sign was found in a restaurant, over the stairs leading down to the lavatories:


I’d say that’s excellent advice in almost any situation.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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