This past weekend I took an educational trip to the Baltimore National Aquarium (photo below). While at the aquarium I attended a dolphin show where I learned about the advanced communication among dolphins using clicks, squeaks, and squeels. The dolphins communicate with each other using these sounds and the trainers mimic the sounds to prompt the dolphins to do tricks for the audience.
It’s a shame humans aren’t so clear in their communication. About an hour after I learned about dolphins’ sophisticated communication, I encountered a sign in the human world that left me utterly baffled. Placed in front of an escalator, the sign read:
“Caution: Avoid injury soft rubber shoes
keep feet between the yellow lines” etc.
I understand what “keep feet between the yellow lines” means, but what is “avoid injury soft rubber shoes”? Something’s missing. An infinitive and a verb maybe? “To avoid injury, wear soft rubber shoes”. That’ll work. Though if certain footwear is recommended for riding the escalator, shouldn’t visitors know this before entering the aquarium instead of in the middle of an exhibit on the second floor? Even with my adjustments to the statement to make it more stable, I still don’t think it properly communicates whatever its point is. The other commands on the sign are easy to follow. I know how to keep my feet between yellow lines. I can hold onto the hand rails. But making sure I’m wearing the proper shoes midway through my visit? A little harder to fix.
So, Baltimore National Aquarium, I have two charges for you:
1. Failing to proofread your signs. You are an instutituion that instructs men, women, and children alike about the fascinating world of water. A noble cause. But as an educational instutition, please don’t let other important educational disciplines escape you.
2. Failing to effectively communicate. Even if you proofread your sign to make it structurally sound, what are you trying to tell visitors with this safety tip? How can they help what shoes they wore that day and how does that fit with the other proactive goals of the sign, such as not leaving children unattended or not bringing strollers onto the escalator. Take a cue from your dolphin friends and communicate a little more effectively.
That being said, I think the Baltimore aquarium is a wonderful place and I greatly enjoy visiting it. But how can a grammar-nut relax when even educational instututions are dropping the ball with clear, effective communication. Come on, Baltimore aquarium!. If you can correctly spell the Latin name for the archerfish (Toxotes chatareus, in case anyone was wondering), I have faith that you can create caution signs that will knock my socks off!