TT: Full Stop, Not Period

JANE: So, Alan, while we’re on the subject of British English, back when you sent me your retirement speech (which was very amusing), you used the term “full stop” to mean what we would call a “period.”

 That’s well and good but, here in the U.S., the term “full stop” is used completely differently.  I assume you folks have the equivalent of stop signs, right?

An Important Sign

An Important Sign

 ALAN: Yes. Strangely, we call them stop signs…

 JANE:  Smart aleck!  I needed to check.  For all I know, you could call them “Halt Posts” or something else in need of interpretation.

 Getting back to my point, here a driver is supposed to come to a “full stop” at one of these signs.  Far too often, drivers instead come to a “rolling stop” – which is just what it sounds like, slowing down, but not completely stopping.

 So, what do you folks call the traffic “full stop”?

 ALAN: We stop, or sometimes halt, at a stop sign. Not stopping (even if you can see that the way is clear) is an offence and you can be fined for it. So in those circumstances, the thing that you call a “rolling stop” is illegal.

 JANE: It’s illegal here, too.  However, some people still do it, especially when they think the way is clear.  And I guess the terminology has evolved so that police officers have something to write on a citation or use when issuing a warning.  “Ma’am, you must come to a full stop at a stop sign, but you only came to a rolling stop.  That is not acceptable.”

 ALAN: We do slow down at “Give Way” signs and at unsigned intersections (particularly if we don’t have right of way) and, if necessary, we stop. That slowing down probably corresponds to your “rolling stop,” but we don’t use the phrase.

 JANE: “Give Way?”  Hmm…  That’s probably the equivalent of what we call a “Yield” sign.  We’re not required to slow down at unsigned intersections at all.  I’m not sure if that’s a very good custom because I think that contributes to people blowing through stop signs.

 I wonder if traffic signs – at least as far as shape and color go – have been universalized?  I’m not enough of a world traveler to know.

 ALAN: There is an international standard for road signs – it’s known as the Vienna Convention. However, the signatories to the convention are mostly in Europe, though strangely Brazil, Chile and the countries in the Yucatan peninsula have also signed it.

 The USA, Australia and New Zealand have not signed it. Despite that, I think there’s still a huge overlap – after all traffic is traffic is traffic. I imagine though that we have a fair bit of leeway and while I suspect you’d recognise most signs over here, we do have our idiosyncrasies. For example, there’s a road that Robin and I drive along  which requires us to “Beware of Penguins” – there’s a stylised picture of a penguin along with the text. The road goes along the coast with the sea on one side of it and the penguins’ nesting area on the other. Needless to say, the penguins have right of way.

 JANE: Oh!  Send me a picture!  That’s priceless!

Here in New Mexico, cows have right of way, but that’s not nearly as much fun as penguins.

 ALAN: And in Australia you often see signs with a stylised black silhouette of a leaping kangaroo on a yellow background. Obviously “Beware of Kangaroos.” I once saw one of these signs that had been vandalised. Somebody had drawn a silhouette of black lumps falling out of the leaping kangaroo’s bottom. I laughed so hard when I saw it that I almost lost control of the car!

 JANE: During our long drives to visit family (my mom lives part-time in Arizona; my dad used to live in Colorado), Jim and I frequently see signs announcing “Elk Next 50 miles” (mileage will vary).  We eagerly look for elk, but have never yet seen one.  We’ve seen buffalo, though…  That was distinctly startling.

 While I’ve never seen scatological vandalism, for the longest time every one of these elk signs would have a tiny crown painted over the elk.  (I should clarify that, as with the Australian kangaroo, the elk was represented by a silhouette, not a word.)

 This doubtless puzzled, and continues to puzzle, drivers.  However, we heard that the reason for this was that the emblem of the regional chapter of the SCA was a crowned elk, and that someone decided to turn all these signs into the emblem.

 ALAN: That’s the power of advertising for you. Nothing is sacred…

 Actually, ignoring the road signs for the moment, there’s a very fundamental automotive difference between you and me. The fact that we drive on the left and much of the rest of the world drives on the right can be a source of confusion to most visitors to New Zealand. Many tourists hire cars and camper vans for their holiday and sadly there are quite a lot of injuries and deaths caused by the tourists having the wrong driving reflexes and reacting badly in a crisis. I once saw a car with a hand-lettered sign in the back window. It said: “American Tourist. Please be patient!” I thought that was an excellent idea. Perhaps such signs should be mandatory.

 JANE: I agree!

 ALAN: I must confess that I dread the thought of visiting a country like America and having to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. I think it would be very scary.

 As a side effect though, when I read descriptions of car chases in American novels, I am completely unable to visualise what’s going on. The pictures of traffic in my head are all left handed and I simply cannot transpose the one onto the other.  Like Winnie the Pooh, I am a bear of very little brain and I easily get confused.

 JANE: I can understand why.  I find your version very confusing.

 As I’ve mentioned, Jim and I watch a lot of anime.  Japanese drivers sit on the right side of the vehicle.  We were recently waiting the very noir series Witch Hunter Robin.  In this tale, there are several scenes where characters hold covert meetings in parked cars.  I’ll admit, there’s been a time or two when what my brain persists on perceiving as the car’s driver gets out of the car.  Then I jump when the car pulls out into traffic.

 Who’s driving?!!

 ALAN: Sometimes it’s the tiniest things that get in the way. In America, Australia and New Zealand, the signs on the motorways that tell you how far it is to the exit and where the exit road leads to are all white letters on a green background. However in England the motorway signs are white letters on a blue background. The first time I saw the green signs on a New Zealand motorway, I was quite flummoxed. It was far too foreign. It was wrong!

 JANE: I’d feel the same way, too.  Still, it might be safer…  In New Zealand, those “right” colors might lead me to forget that I needed to drive on the wrong side.

 ALAN: The scientist in me wants to do an experiment. Come for a visit, drive me somewhere, and let’s see what happens next.

 JANE: Oh, lordy!  That’s a terrifying prospect…  Still, if Jim and I ever make it there, we’ll need to find a quiet road and experiment.  Then you and I can write a Tangent about it!


9 Responses to “TT: Full Stop, Not Period”

  1. JM6 Says:

    Reminds me of a story I heard at a convention:
    The late James P. Hogan told a story of arriving in the USA, in Boston. (He noted how efficiently the roads out of Logan airport seem to have one goal: to get you OUT of Boston.) Anyway, he was on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate Highway Route 90) and speeding along when a State Trooper pulled him over for going 90 mph in a 55 mph zone. Since he’d been in the USA for less than 2 hours at that point, and was driving a rental car with his suitcases in the back, Hogan looked at the trooper and apologized for misunderstanding that all the green and white signs which said “90” were not, in fact, the speed limit. The trooper shook his head, explained the signs, and let him go.

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    Speaking of signs, when driving into Quebec some years ago, I had a little fun doing the mental math. The speed limits and distances switched from miles to kilometers, and the gas prices switched from American dollars per gallon to Canadian dollars per liter. Driving over 100 (km/h that was, not mph) was fun, but wondering whether the gas prices were considerably higher up north wasn’t so much.

  3. Lilli Ann Says:

    I recently survived my first experience as an American driving throughout England and Wales. Holy cow. Friends and family members warned me, but I poo-poohed them. “How different can it really be?” I thought. Turns out it’s a whole different animal. Top stressors? Narrow winding roads with no shoulders and 50mph speed limits. Blind summits marked with signs saying “Caution. Oncoming traffic in your lane of travel.” Multi-lane roundabouts where the lanes disappear seemingly without warning. And 2-way city streets lined with cars parked facing every which way, with room for only one car through the middle. The saving grace? Almost without exception, drivers were polite. No tailgating or unsafe passing. Very few incidents of honking displeasure. Even the one time when I turned right, into the RIGHT (not left) lane and ended up face to face with an unhappily surprised pair of gents, people demonstrated a remarkable level of self-restraint. I certainly can’t say that about driving on my rural Oregon highways!

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Oh, boy… Now Alan’s going to have a lot more trouble convincing me to drive on the wrong side of the road.

      Nice to hear about the politeness, though…

  4. Jane Lindskold Says:

    This conversation gave me a whole new insight into an anime I’ve watched several times — and which I’m re-watching because my lovely spouse gave me a full set for my birthday.

    In the third part of REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA, Akio’s sports car is a major motif. I never noticed until this time that he drives it “American” style, not Japanese — but that’s a detail that would have jumped out to the original Japanese audience.

    Always something cool comes out of these discussions.

  5. Louis Robinson Says:

    I can’t tell for sure if we actually joined the Vienna Convention, but i know that most of our signage was switched to that standard many years ago. Even our cops are using blue lights now, in addition to red [gives a nice purple effect at night 🙂 ]

    Manitoba Provincial Road used to have a very interesting warning sign – I don’t know if they’re still there – that I’ve never run into anywhere else. Every so often you’d see an orange lozenge with the silhouette of a Leopard I.

    Quite reasonable, actually: you really, really don’t want to tangle with a panzer company on the move and the drivers can’t see out of those things worth a damn, so the first clue they’d have that you were there would be having to pull the shreds out of their tracks at the next halt.

  6. Paul Dellinger Says:

    The “stop” and “period” conversation reminds me of how I’m told telegrams used to be sent. “Stop” would substitute for “period” therein.Such as an editor’s telegram to an early 20th century news reporter: “need story of whether there is life on mars stop send fifty words” To which the reporter allegedly replied: “nobody knows” and repeated it 25 times.

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