From the "we know what they meant, but it’s not what they said" department

While walking our dogs recently, we came across several of these signs — ironically, in front of our neighborhood school.

Please Clean Up

8 thoughts on “From the "we know what they meant, but it’s not what they said" department

  1. This exemplifies an interesting aspect of language.

    Originally the first part of the sign might have been planned as something like this:

    Don’t leave your dog’s waste behind!

    But then, it’s considered nicer to speak positively, to say what you *should* do and not what you should not do, so it became:

    Please clean up after your dog!

    Now that’s nicer, and should have the same meaning as “Don’t leave your dog’s waste behind!”

    But the fact that it has the same meaning doesn’t mean that it would still fit in the same context and “It’s against the law!” would still fit. Quite the opposite, that warning doesn’t make sense anymore, although the meaning of the first sentence hasn’t changed!

    It’s the same as “Don’t smoke! It’s illegal!” would be fine, but “Please leave your cigarettes in the box! It’s illegal!” would be wrong.

  2. Isn’t “free” education wonderful? I would not be surprised if the sign was developed and reviewed by products of our wonderful “free” public school system.

  3. :)

    The board is very clear. Let me explain it:

    The implicit “it” in the 3rd sentence refers to the 1st sentence, that is “Please, clean up after your pet”. This is very clear from the 2nd sentence, when the same “it” is used: “… would appreciate it”.

    After substituting into the third sentence you get:

    “Cleaning up after your pet is against the law, you will be cited.”

    Elementary ….

    The hard part is: Why the children of XX school still ask you to do it, when it is against the law? One possibility is they will get more money for their school because the fine is added into the municipal balance.


  4. SS: Like I said, “we know what they meant.” For amusement purposes only.

    If we wanted to be more pedantic grammarians, there are actually two problems with “it’s”: First, it refers to an unintended antecedent, which is a common mistake in high school-level writing. Second, there’s actually no way to refer to the intended antecedent “leaving poop on the ground” because it isn’t present anywhere on the sign, so it needs to be added to make it explicit. Beyond that, we could talk about incorrect and/or inconsistent use of title case, but that would be picking nits

  5. Err… I think you’d need to be pretty braindead to think “it” means cleaning up in that sentence. You’re just taking things too literally here.

  6. Yeah, I don’t get why cleaning up after your pet is illegal, either. Does the poop become city property once it hits city land?

  7. wait – I’m confused too. What’s a sign from San Diego county doing in the northwest?

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