While at the Town & Country HCC campus, I was in a hurry to use the restroom during a quick break between teaching classes. I rushed into the nearest open stall, did my business, and was just about to flush the toilet and step out when I was confronted by this sign on the wall:
|DO NOT FLUSH!!! |
feminine napkins or tampons
I immediately pulled my hand back, grabbed my purse, and started to leave the stall before I thought to myself “Wait a minute….that’s gross!” After rereading the sign, I realized what I had missed during my initial glance, but it made me wonder just how many people had left without stopping to question their first reading of the sign. On top of that, the sign was posted on all 4 walls of each stall and every 2 feet along the sink mirror. It made me think something truly horrible must have happened the last time someone flushed a pad down the toilet, something along the lines of Godzilla.
I’d hate to have been on the janitorial staff servicing that bathroom. Forget having to clean the space, just having to use the facilities could be distasteful if I’d been to a stall that someone else had previously used. Whoever made that sign was responsible for creating the mess.
In case you’re still confused about why this sign led to miscommunication, there are two problems with it. First of all, the font size used for the directive “DO NOT FLUSH” dwarfs the rest of the message, capturing readers’ attention and blocking or hiding the much smaller words. Secondly, the exclamation points that follow the command stop the reader’s brain from processing the rest of the message because exclamation points indicate the end of a statement by taking the place of periods in exclamatory sentences.
I love using this anecdote to illustrate to students the need for attention to grammar. If they were janitors trying to make their work easier by putting up signs for customers, they could potentially be complicating their lives if their signs were badly constructed. Most students laugh and say they won’t be house-cleaners when they graduate, and I make sure to tell them that I would hope not. I want them to aspire for more in their lives! Not that there’s anything shameful about being a custodian; I’d challenge anyone to trade places with a stay-at-home mother or manual laborer and not end up exhausted after a hard day’s work. Manual labor jobs don’t usually provide living wages, though, and I want better for my students than living paycheck to paycheck.
What I hear quite a bit from students is that they will have jobs where they won’t need to write. People on the lower rungs, like secretaries or assistants, do all the writing, but not nurses/engineers/<insert the career they’re studying for>. It comes as a shock for many to hear that my mom writes e-mails to other nurses and managers on an almost daily basis, in addition to the notes she has to make on patient charts and signs she posts around the unit. My father was a civil engineer and he churned out proposals, memos, project reports, and letters around the clock. There are no “assistants” who do all the writing for the professionals; it saves companies so much money to hire professionals who can do their own writing that it has now become a requirement for succeeding in the work force.
I’m off to visit family in San Antonio! Happy writing ‘till I get back!Photo credit: Mirjam van den Berg