Don’t Poop In the Pool
I recently had the pleasure of staying at a Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel chain that operates 81 hotels in 25 countries.
Upon visiting the indoor rooftop swimming pool at one of their New York hotels, I came across this sign:
URINATING OR DISCHARGE OF FECAL MATTER, EXPECTORTING OR BLOWING THE NOSE ON THE SWIMMING POOL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED “BY ORDER OF THE BOARD OF HEALTH”
That sign is a failure for many reasons, only some of which are the Ritz-Carlton’s fault. More on that later.
First, I’ll come back to a point I’ve made repeatedly on the blog: Any message intended for a mass audience must be broadly understandable in order to be effective.
The Ritz-Carlton has an international customer base, and it’s safe to presume that many of their guests speak imperfect English. That sign would do nothing to help them understand the pool’s rules (although I have a tough time imagining that a Dutch-speaking guest from Suriname, for example, would have been inclined to poop in the pool but for the presence of the sign).
Forget international travelers. Many native English speakers would have numerous problems with this sign, as well:
1. The Ritz misspelled the word “expectorate.” The word means “to cough or spit out phlegm from the throat or lungs.” (I didn’t know the word before writing this post, and I’m guessing many other people didn’t, either.)
2. Who blows their nose on a pool? I suspect doing so would be quite a feat. Blowing one’s nose in a pool makes much more sense.
3. Discharge of fecal matter? I find that language grosser than the plain-speak version, “Don’t poop on in the pool.”
4. Why are there quote marks? “By order of the board of health” isn’t a direct quote. If anything, the rest of the sign was (close to) a direct quote.
I wondered whether the Ritz developed that language or whether it was some bureaucratic language mandated by the State of New York. Guess what? It is! Here’s what the state regulations say:
“Urinating, discharge of fecal matter, expectorating or blowing the nose in any swimming pool is prohibited.
(c) Posting regulations. Placards reciting the contents of subdivisions (b), (d) and (e) (where applicable), inclusive, of this section shall be posted conspicuously at the swimming pool or enclosure and in the dressing rooms and offices of all swimming pools.”
So the State of New York gets most of the blame. But the Ritz made the state-mandated language worse; at least New York spelled “expectorate” correctly and referred to blowing the nose in any swimming pool.
It’s easy to see how this mangled sign made its way past the proofreaders at the Ritz. They probably didn’t know the word “expectorate” either, so they didn’t recognize that it was spelled incorrectly. And if they didn’t know that, how in the world would swimmers of all ages and education levels at other New York State pools know it?
This one’s pretty easy, folks. Don’t poop, pee, or spit in the pool.
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“Expectorting”: extorting money from someone by threatening to cough in their pool.
And what about many top executives when their company have to translate a text to another language? I’m amazed to hear constantly “let´s use Google Translator and save us a lot of money”.
Yes, they can save money but are buying a lot of trouble overseas.
Kim – Good one!
Hector – Great point. I see those translations problems show up in many places, including many take out delivery menus.
I suspect the hotel’s sign was not written by someone whose first language is English. It appears the sign was posted merely to meet a regulatory requirement and not necessarily address a problem the hotel was encountering. After all, it is a Ritz Carlton!
First order of message development:
Whether the Ritz Carlton or a base motel chain, construct your message in plain, concise language that will be readily received across a variety of audiences.