Through space and time
Earlier today I was driving along a major road when I saw an advance warning that told me there was a ‘dual carriageway ahead’. Fair enough. I drove another 200 yards or so, and at this point another sign suggested: ‘dual carriageway now.’ And indeed, right there the dual carriageway (divided road, for an North American readers) began. But as far as I was concerned, the sign was wrong, or rather conceptually confused. In a nutshell, the signwriter was apparently unable to distinguish between space and time. The message that was to be conveyed was that the road was changing into a dual carriageway there: but at that precise location, not at that precise moment. In fact, by its appearance the dual carriageway was built maybe two decades ago, so that the signwriter’s apparent comment might have read, not ‘dual carriageway now’, but rather ‘dual carriageway in 1989′. However, what was really meant was ‘dual carriageway begins here’.
I offered all this as a comment to my companion, whose somewhat harsh (but maybe justified) response was that I was an annoying pedant. Probably so. And yet, I still feel just a slight irritation that we have become so sloppy that we don’t distinguish between quite unrelated concepts. I wince when people say ‘less’ when they mean ‘fewer’ (as in ‘there are less cars on the road today’), or when they use a tautology such as ‘forward planning’ (have you ever planned backwards?). English is designed to allow the speaker to be very precise in conveying a meaning, but this is undermined when the precision is wrongly applied.
To make my point, I stopped the car just a foot or so before I reached the sign. There, I said, the dual carriageway isn’t happening now at all. I won’t repeat the reply.Explore posts in the same categories: culture comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.