Tag Archives: construction sites


As if you didn’t already have enough to worry about, along come a few more things to up your angst level. Take this sign, for example, posted on a construction site near Wall Street:







And here you thought it was enough to educate your kids about sex, drugs, and Internet chat rooms. Hah! Even if you’re far, far away from downtown Manhattan and have no plans to go there, you’re remiss if you don’t sit down with your offspring and explain “the dangers of trespassing on this site” – not the perils of wandering around other sites full of heavy machinery and gaping holes, but definitely this one. Hear that, Tahitians, Alaskans, and  Antarcticans? Tonight, after homework check and before toothbrushing, do your duty.

I confess I still don’t understand what this sign alerts me to, and that fact worries me even more:







Are we talking plutonium here? (And if so, wouldn’t it be “radioactive”?) Sparkling pipes in  cement that can distract you and make you fall flat on your nose? Maybe a Keith Haring drawing of his trademark “radiant child,” formed from neon tubes? You wouldn’t want to walk over a modern masterpiece. Besides,  the two exclamation points imply that radiant tubing is nothing to fool around with. You may suffer unknown consequences if you don’t “beware.” (Make that “beware!”).

I do “beware,” but for safety’s sake I’m not limiting my caution to radiant tubing and construction zones. Here’s my slogan: “Beware of Everything.” Try it. You’ll feel a little anxious, but you’ll be much safer.

Illegal Words

The scene: I’m chopping turnips and listening to my local public radio station. The action: The announcer promises an extended report on “illegal spying” after the break. The reaction: I spend the next ten minutes wondering if “legal spying” exists. The consequences: I  lose a thin slice of fingertip to inattention and have to rinse blood off the turnips. Denouement: I decide that “illegal spying” falls into the same category as “victorious traitor.” If you win, you control the language. That’s why no “traitor” ever gains power. A “traitor” who succeeds is a “rebel” or a “patriot” (see “American Revolution”).  So  James Bond isn’t engaging in “illegal spying” in the eyes of the British government. The nation spied upon, however, holds a different opinion. If James Bond gets caught, he goes to prison. Of course, James Bond never does get caught, not permanently anyway. Why ruin a franchise that reaps billions?

But I digress. This post isn’t about potboiler-blockbusters. It’s about legality and the words that describe it. Take a look at this sign:

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These words appear at a construction site, on the side of a shed that protects pedestrians from any falling debris. The ceiling of this shed is maybe twelve or fifteen feet high, level with the apartment windows on the second floor of the building. (How nice for the occupants! They can chat with construction workers over morning coffee.) Back to language: “burglary” is a legal term for breaking and entering a building in order to commit a crime. Okay, that word makes sense, because the shed could facilitate entry into those second-floor apartments. But “hold up”? This is an informal term for “mugging” or any robbery committed with a weapon.  Technically, the same bad guys sneaking through a window could “hold-up” the occupants, but this action is already covered under “burglary.” So why use both terms?

I didn’t lose a fingertip to this one, but I did speculate all the way home. Did the sign-maker envision armed robbers atop the scaffolding, taking wallets and jewelry from residents strolling on top of the shed? For a block or two I decided that the protection was for pedestrians under the shed – a sort of “walk through here and you’ll be safe” notice. Then I realized that “pedestrians” aren’t “premises.” So that theory bit the dust. At the end of the walk, I decided that another definition of “hold-up” worked best: “delay.” This company promises that the building will be “electronically protected” against missing sheetrock, striking workers, and four-hour lunch breaks. Now that is something worth paying for.