Bicycles (or other)

The photo below shows the western end of the prom in Salthill, a popular walking route near where I live in Galway. It’s local tradition to kick the wall on the right before turning around and retracing one’s steps; alternatively you can walk past the gate for further shore views across the bay to the Burren hills.

Take a look at the sign on the gate:


Emergency Access. Bicycles (or other) attached to this gate will be removed.

What I’m curious about is the meaning of the phrase bicycles (or other). Other what?

Bicycles are first and foremost vehicles; this is what most definitions hinge on. But other vehicles doesn’t really apply here: the only other vehicle that might be attached to the gate is a motorbike, in which case it could be named, and anyway I don’t think the gate would appeal to motorcyclists looking for a parking spot.

Some people see or use bicycles mainly as a form of leisure transport. If this is implied by other, the warning message could encompass things like scooters and Segways. But that’s quite a conceptual leap to have to make from the elliptical phrase in parentheses.

Maybe it’s meant more broadly, referring open-endedly to any other objects that (1) could physically and (2) may plausibly be attached to the gate, and in doing so (3) could hinder emergency access.

That raises the question of why bikes were specified in the first place. Maybe it’s because they’re the most likely objects. Galway is chronically lacking in bicycle parking, and though a couple of racks have finally been installed nearby, I think the gate predates them.

How would you interpret bicycles (or other)?

[more posts on the language of public signs]

22 Responses to Bicycles (or other)

  1. stuartnz says:

    I parsed it as “anything else”. I didn’t even think about it, but now that I have it seems like a Twitter style substitution to save space. In this case, physical space on the sign.

  2. DIck Whittington says:

    Into the surreal: wheelchairs, obviously.

  3. europhile says:

    Or other contraptions.

  4. I think it’s to prevent people from attaching their cat to the gate and then arguing that the sign only read bikes. It is an odd sign though. I bet someone must’ve attached something rather weird at some point.

    This post reminds me of a sign I read at a local grocery store that said “Please… Take a cart./Por favor… Tome un carro.” The sign was bilingual, but I couldn’t figure out why they added an ellipsis in either language. When I first saw it, I read it with a pleading/desperate tone of voice, like “Please… please take this cart or else we will all die.”

  5. Chips Mackinolty says:

    Clearly it refers to cycles: unicycles, tricycles … the list goes on, so is covered by (or other).

  6. John Cowan says:

    I agree that it is elliptical for other things.

  7. To me, “(or other)” sounds a tone of exasperation… maybe it’s because I’m the parent of a logic-chopping child. I would read it as “bicycles, or other [thing you might lock or otherwise attach by any means to the gate that might not be a bicycle, so don’t be a smart-ass].” In other words, a warning-within-a-warning that it’ll be no good trying to raise a stink about how your non-bicycle impediment to the proper functioning of a gate was improperly removed.

  8. roger says:

    As is, /or other/ implies a mild disdain for anyone so wanting in civic spirit as to chain anything that would interfere with the free movement of the gate. Wording more specific risks being extensive yet not attaining the comprehensive. Alternatively, passers-by might provoke a correction by adding one in felt-tip pen. And not a Third-World problem, as they say.

  9. kcecelia says:

    Fascinating. The wording is awkward, but I think the maker meant to convey the message, “Anything you attach to this gate will be removed,” with a nod to bicyclists as the most frequent offenders. For some reason the way it is worded makes me think there is a story behind this sign of a signmaker pushed to his or her sign-making limits who became emotional, experimented with multiple wordings, and chose a weird wording when on sign-making deadline. Or not.

  10. astraya says:

    I would suggest ‘Anything attached to this gate will be removed’, except this sign is attached to this gate!

  11. Stan Carey says:

    Thanks for the suggestions, serious or surreal (or other). Something was nagging me about the phrase and this morning I realised what it was. The or other in the sign seems wholly in keeping with the “bureaucratic other“, the customary option at the end of multiple-choice form questions that serves to cover all applicable possibilities. For example:

    Do you travel to work by:
    (a) car
    (b) bus
    (c) train
    (d) bicycle
    (e) foot
    (f) other (please elaborate)

    Except that here there’s obviously no invitation to specify. Given that it’s a council sign, this vague use of other makes sense, whether it was adopted from an analogous context where it fit better, or arose more automatically through frequent use of that “bureaucratic other“.

  12. Mise says:

    And I wonder why there is no Irish version of the sign, for those of us whose language is the other of bicycles (or other).

  13. bevrowe says:

    I imagine myself drafting that sign. I would probably think of “other item” and then wonder if, say, a sacks of potatoes or lost-dog notices were items. But then not being able to think of a logically tight alternative so just leaving it open. It’s not as though there wasn’t enough space on the sign for another word.
    In fact, many signs are much terser than necessary wrt the available space and that often puzzles me.

  14. Timothy Gwyn says:

    I like (or other). It’s imprecise, but concise. Clearly bicycles are the main problem, but other items are not exempt. I would offer (or what have you) as an alternative, because it makes me smile, but it seems too casual to be effective. And some language blogger would probably seize on it anyway, so no improvement there.

  15. Diane Nicholls says:

    Here’s my theory. They wanted to write etc (et cetera – i.e. ‘and the rest’, or ‘and others especially of the same kind’), but then panicked. One word or two? Abbreviate or not? And if abbreviate, with or without final point? In their panic, they plumped for (or others). Charming really. The question is, how would you have reacted to ‘Bicycles (etc.) …’?

    • Stan Carey says:

      Hmm. I don’t think whoever wrote the sign would have agonised over how to render etc. – the two-word form would be out of the question, and the full stop, while likely, would in any case not be something to panic over. I would find Bicycles (etc.) more idiomatic than Bicycles (or other), but I’d drop the parentheses.

  16. roger says:

    /etc./ might suit a positive better; that is, as an invitation:
    Please lock your Suffragette (etc.) to these railings.
    Sean O’Casey, by the way, objected to G. Orwell for his “and so on and so forths”. (It doesn’t take much to irritate.)

  17. Mick says:

    Horses and dunkeys

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s