Stump the Semiotician

I just got back from a vacation in northern California, and while I was strolling down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, I happened across this sign at the Mediterranean Cafe.

I haven’t seen a sign like this in a long time, but I suspect partial nudity is a bigger problem in Berkeley than in most of the places I frequent. Seeing this sign reminded me of another sign outside the playground just around the corner from my house. I often go there with my kids.

These signs have similar syntactical construction. What about their semantics? If we believe both signs follow the condition-consequence model, then the following is clear: Unless you bring two or more dogs to my park, you may not play golf. Or maybe you can play golf if there are dogs on the premises somewhere. On the other hand, if each is merely a list of negatives, then it follows that patrons of the Mediterranean Cafe should expect neither a shirt, nor shoes, nor service of any kind. How they stay in business is anybody’s guess, but presumably they have no objection to partial nudity, since they dispense no clothes.

Do you find semantic sharpshooting entertaining or intensely irritating? Know any weirdly ambiguous signs? I want to hear about them.

5 thoughts on “Stump the Semiotician”

  1. Someone once told me an idea for a short movie subject. It was long enough ago that I forget who it was, but it might have been Dave Henry. In any case, the short movie subject goes like this:

    [Wide-angle shot of urban playground scene. Through a chain link fence we see a rubberized-surface-covered court with playground equipment: swings, gym bars, etc. A few small children and their parents play on the toys and we can hear their chatter, laughter, etc. On the chain link fence is a sign:


    [Camera pans back to reveal the street in front of the chain link fence.]

    [A police cruiser drives from left of shot, brakes hard in front of sign.]

    [POLICEMAN gets out of driver’s seat and looks at sign. He takes his hat off and wipes his brow. He looks around in momentary confusion. He shrugs, tears the sign off the fence, walks to the back of the cruiser, opens the trunk revealing a small cache of similar signs, throws the sign in the trunk, closes the trunk, climbs back into the driver’s seat and drives off towards right of shot.]

    — THE END —

  2. A friend of mine has a 2 year old son who doesn’t care for clothing. She was recently struggling to get him to put his shoes on before going into the grocery store. To make her point, she showed him the sign on the door saying “Shirts and shoes required”. His response? “Great, then I don’t have to wear my pants!”

  3. Those “Police Take Notice” signs have always puzzled me too. I could never figure out if the message was supposed to be a command to the police or an admonition to potential wrong-doers.

  4. “Slow Elderly Crossing” — I pass this every day and always think it will end up on Leno some day with the question “Does this mean that the neighborhood elderly are not track stars?” or the intended “Slow [down]… Elderly [may be] crossing”

  5. Near my home is a coffee factory that used to have these signs in its lot:



    I could kick myself for not ever taking a photo of them.

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