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Nota Bene

September 29, 2010

I just wrote about the subway in the last post, and wanted to say another related thing:

At our stop there is now a hand-painted sign which says

NORTH

BOUNDPLATFORM

CLOSED

The unusual choice of spacing reminded me of a day last when I was driving on the FDR on my way to Connecticut and was in some really slow-moving traffic. I had a lot of time to switch radio stations, to look at the water, and to read some LED signs with updates that had been placed on the highway. For the most part, these signs had truisms like, “Traffic Slow.” But one of them said something like

NB: FDR TRAFFIC SLOW DUE TO WORK ON EXIT 7

Wow. I was under the impression that the trend in signage — especially traffic signage — was to dumb things down. Witness the red and green flashing people at intersection these day, rather than signs with text saying Walk, or, Don’t Walk.

But not only had they chosen a somewhat obscure Latin  and or Italian phrase, “Nota bene,” they had abbreviated it as NB, and just assumed that we’d know what they meant. Such confidence in their readership! As a person who loves language, it gave me a real charge. Hurrah!

Only on the return trip, when I saw a sign that said SB: FDR, etc. etc., and wracked my brains for a moment regarding the hidden meaning of  the Latin abbreviation SB, did I understand that they meant Southbound.

They shouldn’t have such confidence in their readership, after all.

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