Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why?

The other day I was in the bookstore bathroom of all places (because God knows I am very familiar with bathrooms these days) and I go to wash my hands and see this on the soap dispenser. It reads "Don't not put Soap in till 11:25 am." Because I am the kind of person who thinks deeply about these sorts of things I began to ponder this note. My first thought was naturally "How come? WHY can we not not put soap in 'til 11:25 am?" These are the sorts of mysteries that could drive one out of one's mind. I began to perform a close reading of the bathroom note.


Naturally the eye is first drawn towards the use of the double negative "don't not put soap in." Does this in fact mean that we ARE to put soap in before 11:25 am? When before 11:25 am? Just any time, but no later than 11:25am? Considering the matter further I realized that the note likely means that we are to put the soap in but this must be done after 11:25 am. The mistake they made was not to use a triple negative, which would read as follows: "Don't not put NO soap in til 11:25 am." See, had we been in the real Dirty South instead of the tropical New York of South Florida the note likely would have read correctly, especially if one of my relatives had written it.

Still though, I felt dissatisfied. It really ate at me wondering why we couldn't put soap in until 11:25 am. I also have to add in that this photograph was taken around 2:30 pm and that there was no soap in the dispenser. My theory is that the note was just too vague. It didn't say to put the soap in AT 11:25. It just said don't not do it "TILL" 11:25. Well that could mean that as long as you don't not put the soap in until 11:25 am that you could really not put it in anytime after that and anytime after that could mean pretty much whenever throughout the entire infinite future. It could be somewhere around 2017 until we get some soap in the bookstore ladies' room with instructions like that. But still I wonder, why not before 11:25 am? And why specifically 11:25 am? What would have happened if someone had tried to put soap in say at 11:23 am? Why would the time matter when it comes to the not putting of soap in a dispenser? And why not just make it an even 11:30 here? I mean honestly, would those extra five minutes have mattered? I tend to like things that happen at even 15 minute intervals. It has always irritated me to no end to see train schedules and the like where modes of transportation arrive and depart at odd times such as 5:58 pm. Why can't they just say 6:00? Do those extra two minutes make that much difference in the grand scheme of things? I don't not think they do.

Perhaps the reason there was no soap in the dispenser was because the person who was supposed to put the soap in was out working on a garden. Given the instructions this was entirely feasible. Read as such: "Don't not put the soap in. Till 11:25 am" the note takes on a very different meaning. It really says DO put the soap in (but this can easily be mistaken as simply DON'T put the soap in because double negatives are confusing) and then "Till 11:25 am." Obviously the bathroom person read this and thought his or her instructions were to go and till a field at 11:25 am, so he or she probably did that, wondering all the while where in the job description of bookstore bathroom attendant, farm work came into play.

I considered sending this here for further examination, but as there were no quotation marks I thought it wasn't appropriate content. Oh, how much better this note could have been with some quotes. Imagine if the quotes had been around the word "soap." Think of all the possibilities for meaning we could have found there.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I finished cleaning up after peeing my pants reading this, my subconscious (the real powerhouse of my big dumb brain) told me that it was likely due to some other process that had to finish at 11:25.

My guess is that the dispenser was broke and the epoxy that the maintenance man, our unknown hero, used had instructions about not no using until after a specified time. Not wanting to appear ignant, our hero determined that the dispenser would be safe to use at exactly 11:25 and left this note.

It would seem that our hero is the type who would, promptly at 11:25, fill the dispenser with soap. Our nemesis, retail slacker, doesn't wash their hands and doesn't bother to read anything as pedestrian as a note in the bathroom (works in a bookstore, only reads great works of literature).

No soap for you.

Architect Critic said...

Strange. Towards the end I was expecting you to ask and then have some strange interaction with the sales clerk. . .

Anonymous said...

It comes to no surprise to me after realizing how failed our education system really is. As I was traveling the country recently I picked up the local newspapers and noticed that the Governors of each states were slashing the budgets for education by millions of dollars. What do we really expect anymore? We have a very large part of society that never really had a chance to learn. Couple that with so many illegal aliens that cannot spell a word let alone make a complete sentence. It's sad. This country needs to find a real value system and then get back to work at it. In the meantime it's better to laugh at it I guess. :) Your posts make me laugh and I find myself coming here to step out of my own reality and in to yours. YOU are one cool woman! Your writing inspires me. I love you.

Wide Lawns said...

I love you too.

BUT - one thing that might make you think of the illegal aliens' language issues differently is that they often have no desire to put the huge amount of effort in to learn English because they don't see the US as their home. Most of them are here only to work and they believe (whether this ends up being the case or not) that one day they will return home with the money they made here. They want to use their time to work, not to learn. Also, most of them didn't have any education in their home country either. I know several who are also illiterate in Spanish. So learning English would be beyond a monumental task although it would drastically improve their lives and actually probably increase their potential for making the money they want to take home one day. I'm not saying any of this is right, but just that that's how many of them see it.

Also, and this is really important and speaks far more to your comment - in my experience the foreigners who do learn English often read and write our language better than many born and bred Americans. That is a bit horrifying.

I could rant endlessly about what I believe are some causes of problems in our educational system. Maybe one day I will.

kjellsor said...

Maybe you could submit it to www.passiveaggressivenotes.com for closer inspection.

AV said...

The poor handwriting combined with the odd angle of my laptop screen conspired to make me read that sign as, "Do not put soup in till 11:15 a.m."

When I read your first sentence, I was obviously wondering there would be soup in the ladies' room at the bookstore and what 11:25 a.m. had to do with anything.

The sign makes more sense now, but, of course, not much.

Wide Lawns said...

Oh my lord the passive aggressive notes are hilarious. Everyone please go read them. Thanks for telling me about the site.

JoeinVegas said...

The critical point - how did you wash your hands with no soap? (or soup, whatever you use)

Wide Lawns said...

Purell! I had some in my purse.

mihai said...

hi you sure do lead a very adventurous life. I bumped in your blog searching the meaning[I'm not English] of the word "lawns" in a Ernest Hemingway quotation precisely the one that gives the name to your blog and i found your last post really funny. keep the the good work. P.S. if you know what "lawns" mean would you like publishing a post explaining it. thanks

missnightowl said...

I meant to come back yesterday to suggest a blog for this note but got distracted.

englishfail.wordpress.com

They've only been around for a few months but this note definitely would fit in there.

beatgrl said...

I just want you to know I have tears streaming down my face right now from laughing so hard.

Anonymous said...

Probably it is someone who went to the toilet at 11:25 or thereabouts and was annoyed that nobody had put soap in the dispenser by that time. So they mean "Don't leave it until 11:25 before putting soap out" or something.

Or maybe they are just special.

Flipper said...

Oh, this is brilliant. I also read it as "soup". (are you sure it didn't say soup?)

Mihai: a lawn is a big expanse of grass in a garden. generally gets cut/ looked after by someone (so it isn't a field).

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