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When I am Copyeditor General ...: Emergency instructions will not cause panic


Emergency instructions will not cause panic

Spotted in an elevator:

How many ambiguities can you find, kids? Here's my list:

1) The sentence is hard to parse: I had to read it a couple of times to make sense of it. ("To operate emergency elevator, phone depress button"? "To operate emergency, elevator phone depress, button and hold"?)

2) "Depress button." Do I really have to bring the button down, man? Can't I just press it? Or push it?

3) "Depress button." But which one? Not shown in the photo are the seven buttons on the control panel: the numbers 1 through 4, the "open" and "close" buttons, and one marked "alarm." By a process of elimination, it appears the latter is the appropriate choice. Still, the label suggests it's intended to trigger a noise, not initiate a phone call.

2) "Hold until answering service answers." Um, isn't that what you'd expect from an answering service? And do we really need that extra detail? I suspect someone felt it important to explain that the response wouldn't come from inside the building--that Mr. Stucky Unlucky shouldn't expect help to arrive within minutes. But to me, it suggests an impersonal, and possibly uncaring, distance. Where exactly is this answering service? New York? Ohio? Bangalore?

3) "Indicating your location." Yeah, hello? I'm inside the elevator. I don't remember seeing the details elsewhere inside the metal box, but the info they're looking for--building address, elevator number, or anything else that might help a rescue crew locate a trapped vertical traveler--isn't posted near the sign.

So let's review: you're in the elevator. The doors have closed, you're descending slowly--and then, with a gentle lurch, you come to a halt. You wait a while, panic building (you were the last one to leave the office! It's Friday night! On a long weekend!). And then you read the sign a couple of times, check the buttons, look around to make sure there aren't any other buttons you should push instead, and finally, sadly, depress the alarm. You have a brief conversation with a disembodied voice.

And then you wait.

After a while, you take out a Sharpie and write on the metal wall:

"If you need help, push the "alarm" button and hold until someone answers. You'll be okay."

Copyeditor General's ruling: Signs directing behavior in unusual, unexpected and potentially frightening situations should be simple, clear and devoid of unnecessary detail. Also, it's always a good idea to carry a granola bar. Just in case.


Laura Matthews said...

hey, I just found this blog... turn on the RSS feed function so I can subscribe through Bloglines.


LimeyG said...

Meurmh ... should be on already. I just checked the settings and everything's set to Full Stun Power ...

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