Exit only on Saturdays

10 December 2004

Travelling on the London Underground’s Piccadilly line (that’s the dark blue one) every day, there’s a piece of visual communication that has always amused me.

Covent Garden – as well as being one of London’s biggest tourist hotspots - has a tube station where you can “Exit only on Saturdays 1300 – 1700″ according to the map of the Piccadilly Line on the train.

Now this strikes me as a classic example of ‘ambiguous communication’ (Greek scholars: would ambigraphy work?). As someone with English as their native (and only) tongue, does this not infer that you can only get to street level at Covent Garden station on a Saturday afternoon? I cannot help but imagine all those fashion and media types alighting here and being forced to lead a subterranean life all week until someone on the national minimum wage finally sets them free (sense the irony there).

Of course what they really mean is that you cannot enter the station during those times, but why not say that then?

What really annoys me (and if I’m getting annoyed about something like this, then I ready do need to get out more) is that this has been stuck on the map, post facto. This means that LU had the opportunity to think about what to say, and they chose ambiguously. They probably even had a meeting (or worse, a brainstorm) that resulted in the decision to choose the less clear option. Then they gave another minimum wager the job of wandering through every single Piccadilly Line train carefully sticking this little nugget of public information in the space between Holborn and Leicester Square.

So, when you next travel the ‘dark blue’, get out your biro, cross out ‘Exit only’ and replace it with ‘No entrance’. Or better still, if you know somone who works for London Underground, tell them to change it next time around.

If anyone would like to join my quest for ambigraphy, please post your best examples in the comments. (Or maybe companies now need a Chief Ambigraphy Officer, to go with their Chief Blogging Officers and Chief Growth Officers)

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2 Responses to “Exit only on Saturdays”

  1. niallcook

    The ambiguity here comes from the fact that EXIT can be noun or verb. They could have swapped EXIT for another noun ("Way Out") or better still just re-ordered: Saturday 1300-1700, exit only

    …would have been much clearer.

  2. niallcook

    One last piece of kitchen ambiguosophy. It’s really only a matter of time before the yanks turn Way Out into a verb too.

    I’m way outing the building now. Go and Christmas festively.

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