No Dog Fouling
Another brief exercise in language
I’m pretty sure I’m just shouting into the void.
All right, here we go: in parks and on streets across the nation you will find signs that say “no dog fouling”. These signs are nonsense. Look. LOOK. What do the words say? What do they mean? Not collectively, they’ve got a conventionally assigned meaning at this point and there’s nothing to be done about it, but can we just acknowledge that they are in defiance of reason?
I may already have pointed out (many, many times) that “we kindly ask customers to refrain from [whatever]” is a monstrous Frankensteining of meaning derived from the irrational prohibition on split infinitives. It should be “we ask customers to kindly refrain from [whatever]” but that would be in defiance of John Comly, and we can’t have that, so it becomes “we ask customers kindly to refrain from [whatever]” which is the given correct alternative. And then shop owners, naturally accepting that they’re kind people, look at the text and say - not wrongly - “that’s a bit awkward, wouldn’t it be better and more polite if it said “we kindly ask customers to refrain from [whatever]” and here we all are, faced with textual feedback loops screaming in the brainparts like Hendrix smashing a copy of Fowler’s Guide to Modern English Usage (2nd Edition) into a set of burning speakers.
Maybe that’s just me.
Back to “no dog fouling”. Think about it. Let’s suppose you had a park full of imported birds, all brightly coloured and gorgeous, to which you admitted members of the public. I mean we’re essentially talking about an aviary, so we’ll say it’s an aviary. And it has recently become popular for people to walk with their cats when they go out and about on their daily rounds, and the cats are by convention not restrained in any way. And let us say you put up a sign at the gates of your aviary for the attention of those visiting so that they would know the basis of admission to your sanctuary for Velvet Aquamarine Honeysuckers and Mango-billed Jezzawompies and so on (FINE I know nothing about birds, get over it) and that sign said
NO CAT HUNTING
Your visitors would surely read that sign and clutch their cats to their chests and say “what sort of MONSTER would hunt cats?”
It would not occur to them to say “Why, sweet Rufus the Cat, I shall carry you through the aviary and ensure that you do not predate like a biblical plague upon these find specimens, because that would be a sorrow to all and a crime against zoology.”
Because that is not what the sign says. Now, they might deduce it from context, because we will allow that people are not stupid - or at least, not consistently and evenly stupid over time and at a population level - but in no way could it be said that you had communicated clearly on the first attempt.
I’m just saying.
I have views.