12 May 2008

Forms of address

To pick up on Rob Waller’s note about endless addresses, the official address of the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at Reading used to puzzle me. Here it is:

Department of Typography & Graphic Communication
University of Reading
2 Earley Gate
Whiteknights
PO Box 239
Reading
RG6 6AU

Then it occurred to me that the reason for the multiple layers was that this was a portmanteau address, interlarding different user needs. This is what a human visitor needs to find the Department:

Department of Typography & Graphic Communication
University of Reading
2 Earley Gate
Whiteknights
Reading

This is all the Post Office needs to deliver mail:

PO Box 239
RG6 6AU

To complicate it a little, this is what the University postal service subsequently needs to get the letter to exactly the right place:

Department of Typography & Graphic Communication

So the official address is a kludge: no-one needs all the information, but each bit of it is used by somebody. But there’s a user who isn’t currently catered for: the SatNav-guided driver who, if they tap in RG6 6AU, will shortly find themselves driving into Reading’s main postal sorting office. What they need is probably

SatNav: RG6 2AU

– would you like to try it and see?

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04 May 2008

Way out exits

Rob Waller commented on his blog The Simpleton that the recorded message at King’s Cross Underground station has changed from ‘alight for the Royal National Institute for the Blind’ to ‘exit for the Royal National Institute of Blind People’.

Hang on a minute – there are no exits on the Underground. If you look at the signs, you will see that London Transport’s house style is ‘Way out’ (previously ‘WAY OUT’), chiming with long-standing advice to avoid Latinisms in favour of plain, English words. I've always liked this directness, although a quick trawl of the web produces several examples of visitors to London who feel obliged to explain that ‘way out’ means ‘exit’.

So, shouldn’t it be ‘way out for the Royal National Institute of Blind People’?

But here, I imagine, ‘exit’ is being used as an imperative rather than a noun: and you can’t say ‘get out for the Royal …’ because that sounds a bit like the bloke in the pub, ‘get out of here …’ ‘Exit’ works both an a noun and a verb, making it flexible in sentence structures – in the King’s Cross example, a verb is required to balance the first part of the announcement, which explains you can change for the Northern and Piccadilly lines, and for the main line station. So perhaps exits haven't finally come in to the tube after more than a century and a half – we’ll still have to find a way out when we want to exit.

The image shows a way out sign at St John’s Wood, 2007, by Oxyman

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