Public notices

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Public notices and public signs of one sort or another are of course an important, although largely overlooked, part of our heritage.

One favourite from some years ago was a road sign which stated unequivocally “Danger Men’. This sign was placed on the ground and was held upright by large stones at back and front. The stone in the front completely obscured the remaining part of the warning which said, ‘At Work’.

There are other kinds of signs which similarly can only bemuse. How, for instance, is anyone supposed to react to that road sign, ‘Caution: Falling Rocks’? Or indeed how did its customers react at the filling station which some time ago told motorists at a time of shortage that it had, ‘fresh petrol available’?  There are the signs which provide incorrect information at which the National Museum, in Gaborone, is especially adept although it cannot be blamed for the plaque at the old Gaborone Town Council which records that it was unveiled on the 17th September 1966 by the Hon. Dr Seretse Khama OBE. Whilst, as a member of the new National Assembly, he was undoubtedly an Hon, I do wonder if he could also have been a Dr at that time?

 There are also those signs which appear to make sense at first reading but which, on closer inspection, become more and more difficult to understand.


Some weeks ago I mentioned in Mmegi that a long ago biographer of Kenneth Kaunda had said that he was able, ‘to hold contradictory ideas in a state of mutual balance’.  If you look at this particular sign you will get a very good idea of what he might have meant because this sign, in a mere 16 words, manages to indicate both that a motorist is allowed to park and that he/she is not allowed to do so! It may be that the author of this sign thought in one language but felt obliged to write in another so that what emerged isn’t quite the one or the other!

Let’s make a start with, ‘Unlawful Parking” – which is a bit of a problem because there is of course no such thing, as with unlawful eating.  ‘Parking Is Strictly Prohibited’ would be more acceptable but ‘unlawful’ and ‘prohibited’ are words with different meanings.

The problem is that the sign states that ‘Unlawful Parking is Prohibited’ which is a double negative with one negative cancelling out the other which therefore states, as a result, that parking is permitted!

 It then compounds the problem by stating that people who park there for more than an hour will be charged instead of advising them that they can park there free of charge for an hour but thereafter will be obliged to pay – someone at some unknown rate.

 Alternatively of course, some people will understand the notice to be saying, ‘Unlawful Parking is Strictly Prohibited for More than an Hour’ but at this stage they will probably give up and go home.

Editor's Comment
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