Monday, July 21, 2008

Broken English

On our daily treck into the big city we have the great pleasure to use the services of Southern Trains. An ... interesting experience, anthropologically. All those people to watch, all those conversations to overhear! One of the things that really bugs me, though, is the announcement made whenever the train comes to a halt in one of the half dozen stations between here and London Bridge: "Do not leave unattended luggage on the platform."

Now, if you ask me, this announcement entails a logical impossibility. “Unattended luggage” is not something that you can still leave on a platform - it has already been left there. That's why it's unattended. The phrase also suggests that this is somebody else's luggage, really, not something that you yourself could feasibly leave behind. In fact the request - formulated in this way - invites you to take any unattended items of luggage with you should you happen to come across them. To help Southern Trains.

To make sense, the announcement would have to run: “Do not leave luggage unattended on the platform.” Though that, too, sounds a bit tautological to me. Any act of creating a physical distance between you and your suitcase creates the state of unattendance so feared by the London transport authorities. There really is no need to adorn the act of "leaving" with an explanatory adverb, at least not with one of the pseudo-posh (but potentially misleading) type favoured by public companies trying to smarten up linguistically. Such as "due to" and "beverages."

Why not just: "Do not leave your luggage behind"?

Oh well, I guess this provincial bumpkin is being too simple-minded once again.


lily said...

I love that post.

Thanks for your comment.
Indeed the student parties here are crazy, even a bit too crazy for me though, but it is a lot of fun.
The long flight was definitively worth it, although it was not a pleasure.

So,'Please mind the gap between the train and the platform'.
Still jealous you are in London.
It is one of my favourite places on earth.

All the best,
enjoy your holiday,

mikevonswinton said...

What they might mean is this; if you leave your bags unheld they might be dragged under subsequent trains going through the station at speed by the wind generated by the train - or at least displaced onto the track. Smething like this nearly happened to me once. The difficulty of conveying this in sensible English suggests that they may have settled on the formulation you are satirising as against a five minute lecture.