Stand in the Closet for Practice

"In case of fire, use stairs," it says.

We've all seen this sign posted beside elevators the world 'round and it's always sort of troubled me. For years I couldn't figure out why.

I realized this past weekend as I spent many hours waiting for elevators in the hotels hosting Dragon*Con that the actual meaning of the sign, by virtue of its grammatical construction, is entirely different from it's intent.

Now, I grant that this is a subtlety of language so finespun that, much like the German language distinction between jelly-filled pastries and US presidents, might be meaningless except to pedants like me. On the other hand, it still irks me.

The sign should read, "In the case of fire, use stairs." Meaning, in the event of a fire, use the stairs and not the elevator.

But, the sign lacks the article "the" and thus means "use the stairs because there might be a fire" or perhaps even "if you don't use the stairs, you might cause be a fire."

In any case, it means, "don't use the elevator," which is advice I wish more people at the convention would have taken.

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1 comment:

Rakanuj said...

I'm gonna have to disagree with you. "In case" and "In case of" are idioms:


The one you're using - "in case of" - is idiomatic for "in the event of", in which case (ha) the sentence reads correctly: "In the event of fire, use stairs".

Now if you're just arguing that the idiom is stupid, I'll follow you there with banners and a drum.

Of course, I would have read "in the case of fire" entirely differently, imagining something akin to a giant suitcase full of fire. Language is wonderfully ambiguous this way. Maybe I'm just contrary. :D