The Prohibition Sign

If you’re old enough to drive, I’m sure you’ve seen one of the following signs somewhere in your life before.

This thing. Image courtesy Wikimedia.
This thing. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

The sign above is known as the prohibition sign, or more colloquially, the no symbol. If you see this sign, you know not to do something. The no symbol over a left arrow means no left turn. The no symbol over a capital P means no parking. And, not shockingly, the no symbol over a bicycle means no bicycles.

Straightforward, yes? Good. I’m glad you think so.

A few weeks ago, I was driving around and saw a sign in someone’s yard. Shockingly, it wasn’t a Clinton/Trump/Johnson/local election sign. Instead, it was a sign protesting the building of an interstate off ramp in the area in question. While I generally didn’t agree with the sign’s intended message[1], I actually had a bigger issue with the sign’s misuse of the no no symbol.

The sign had written in big black capital letters NO RAMP. Which, while an opinion I would strongly disagree with, is perfectly fine. But then over the message of “no ramp”, a prohibition sign was overlayed. The sign effectively read “no no ramp”.

As anyone who has taken an English knows, not only are double negatives poor grammar, they also change the meaning of your sentence to the opposite of its intent. I know that the sign means they don’t want the ramp. Yet, every time I see the sign, I can’t help but get excited for how many people love ramps so much that they’ve put yard signs up supporting them.

Let this be a lesson to you, all of you future protestors, complainers, campaigners, and other people who may need to make a sign for any reason. If you’re going to use the prohibition symbol on your signs, don’t also use the word no on them. You’ll just make people think you’re really excited for something you don’t support.

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