Here wait to you told I

Driving around LA today with A., apartment hunting, I noticed, not for the first time, a bizarre road-marking protocol that’s used here. It might be common to the entire US, not sure. Either way, it just doesn’t make any sense.

A simple example: a sign on the road that says:


Now, it’s obvious what that’s supposed to mean, but it’s a real struggle to get my brain to process the words such that it sees the imperative: ‘Wait Here’. It continues to see ‘Here Wait’, and will not be told otherwise. The rationale behind the protocol is that drivers are assumed to read signs on the road surface in the direction that they’re travelling, so that ‘Wait’ comes before ‘Here’. There’s a logic to this, and it might just hold if the words were tens of yards apart, but they’re not. They’re together, stacked on top of each other, so that the (English-speaking) human brain wilfully disobeys and reads, as is its wont, from top to bottom. Given that a certain degree of both clarity of reading and speed of reading seems to be a prerequisite of helpful signs, someone with a big bucket of white paint is just not thinking about what they’re doing.

It finally occurred to me where else this wilfull disregard for language processing occurs these days. The road signs are examples of ‘top-posting’, the Microsoft-encouraged, virus-like tendency of relatively new and/or lazy writers of e-mails and Usenet postings to quote everything they’re sent, no matter how long or irrelevant it might be, and simply stick the new stuff on the top. Threads grow like tapeworms clogging up the ‘net’s intestines, and they’re harder to process.

(English-speaking) human beings — even Microsoft users (well, most of them anyway) — read from top to bottom. That’s not going to change soon. Designers of user-interfaces, even the interfaces between human and road, should have that etched into their skin.

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