I just spent a lovely weekend with my family in Montreal. We did a house swap with a friend who stayed at our humble abode in Toronto and it all worked out very well indeed. Before you dismiss this posting as a “here’s what I had for lunch” blog, hear me out. This here sign got us the honking of a lifetime.
You see…perhaps it’s a cultural thing…perhaps it’s an idiot thing. We thought the friendly green circle in the sign indicated that MTQ suggested that we would PREFER to go straight or right…we did not think that we really really really weren’t supposed to go left.
Hence the honking (complete with language-bridging gestures).
This sign kind of reminds me of the new shift towards putting a positive spin on everything. Case in point, have you noticed that you’re no longer asked to turn off your cell phone but are now “reminded to turn your phone back on after this session”?
There’s such thing as being too positive (yes, I, Tanya Geisler, the Pollyanna of Pollyannas have just declared that there may well be such thing as being too positive). Sincerity can be compromised, clarity can be lost and confusion can reign.
While this sign is far more welcoming than the no-left turn signs we’re accustomed to (it makes me curious about what’s possible ahead and to the right), its initial ambiguity wasn’t helpful. Clearly.
In considering the double positive of this sign (go right, go straight but don’t go left) I was reminded of a story told by a friend (turns out it’s Jack Rosenthal’s story in the New York Times, but clever nonetheless):
A colleague recently told Roger Gould, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, about a lecture, place uncertain, referring to double negatives. Every language, the lecturer observed, has a construction in which two negatives make a positive. But in English, he said, there's no construction in which two positives make a negative.
From the hall came the perfect, anonymous response: "Yeah, right."