Service of When Simple Things Confuse

November 9th, 2017

Categories: Acronyms, Communications, Signage

I wonder if I live on a different planet sometimes. To illustrate what I mean, I’ve photographed a few signs and a sales pitch that I’ve recently noticed or received. I cover communications—mostly poor–in many of my posts.

On a bus at night this week I looked up from what I was reading to see where I was. I admired the new lit street sign [photo above], but from where I sat, I could only see the Avenue—the street number, which is what I needed to know, was hidden. Did the designer think of that?

I know why real estate people do it, because the avenue may have more cachet as an address to the building owner, but it has always confounded me when a door that opens many paces up a NYC street has an address referencing an Avenue. I’m surprised that it’s allowed. The photo, right, shows 350 Lexington Ave. quite a bit up on 40th Street facing west.

I got a letter from Stig Abell, whom I don’t know, asking me to subscribe to the TLS with not a hint of what it was anywhere. I bet every reader of this blog knows what TLS is but on arrival home late one night, I didn’t. Because I was planning to write this column, instead of tossing the letter immediately, I looked it up: The Times Literary Supplement. I guess it was one of those “If you have to ask, you’re not worthy of it,” sales pitches.

I didn’t snap a shot of a poster that was at bus stops all over town a few months ago—and I couldn’t find an image of it on the Internet either so you’ll have to believe me. It told the reader to fly out of EWR because of convenience etc. I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and had no idea where EWR was so the poster was wasted on me—I’ve never been good at acronyms anyway. I later learned in a Facebook conversation that it refers to Newark Airport as well as why the airport uses the letters EWR. Because the letter N is reserved for all things Navy, it cannot be used to identify airports.  EWR refers to some of the other letters in the word nEWaRk.

Have you been left in the dark due to confusing signs or mysterious sales pitches?


6 Responses to “Service of When Simple Things Confuse”

  1. David Reich Said:

    In some cities, street signs give names or numbers of both streets at the intersection, which makes sense. Some places also have an arrow with an indication of what address numbers are on that block. In NYC, for instance. 40th and Lex doesn’t give any indication of what number on Lex you’re at. (We know it’s 350, since we used to work there.) And numbers on the Avenues are different from one avenue to the next. 350 Lex is at E. 40th, for instance, but 350 Park is up between 51 and 52 St. Better signage would be helpful.

    I suppose the ads for flights from Newark airport are aimed at frequent travelers, who generally know EWR is Newark, just as they know what LGA and JFK stand for. Those billboards just aren’t targeted at you, I guess.

    On 3rd point, like you, I would have had no idea for TLS stands for. But now I do know, thank you.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Most New Yorkers know what JFK and LGA stand for. I don’t like getting to Newark [or NJ] for traffic reasons so I avoid it. But rule of thumb, I always call out the full name of an organization or company the first time I reference it if writing a letter, especially if it’s not on the letterhead or, in the case of a poster, even if in mouse type, I’d insist it be somewhere. It’s good practice I think. NYC has so many foreign tourists…in addition to frequent US flyers… You’d think they’d want to capture some of that business as well.

    As for confusing building addresses, if late for a meeting it is disconcerting when you don’t see an entrance where you think it should be. Panic sets in.

  3. Lucan Said:

    You touch on two of my most irritating pet peeves: Acronyms and directions to airports.

    We dine occasionally at the CIA in Hyde Park, and it is not a place with a bunch of goons running in white sheets playing Halloween! Whenever possible, I spell out initialed names.

    As to airports, the signs to Orley in Paris are the worst! But, for me finding any airport by following signs is a challenge. I always get somebody else to drive.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My favorite example I have repeated far too often: There used to be a sign as you drove off the Triborough Bridge [does anyone call it the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge?] with an arrow. It said: Javits Center. The bridge is on the East side of Manhattan and the Javits on the West side–about as far away from each other as two places can be. I used to wonder if they ended up with an extra sign and someone tacked it any old place.

    I’ve too often been asked elementary questions by taxi drivers. In Philadelphia years ago we wandered in circles and the driver didn’t speak English on top of knowing nothing about that city. So I want to know where I am going even if someone else is driving. Google map please!

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    I’m not keen on being confused, and not into acronyms as a rule, so what confuses and is obscure is thrown into the mental and/or physical trash. Perhaps one day there’s an explosion, but not so far. Life is way too short to be bothered with (what I see as) trivia. Matters requiring attention have a way of making themselves felt — and not always in a pleasant fashion.

    Exceptions to this way of thinking come in new and often bizarre packages which excite curiosity and may also inspire learning!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    In the scheme of things, so much is trivia.

    Communications interests me–it’s an important part of what I do–and when it is clear, it helps me navigate, which is why I pick up on examples of when it’s not. In many cases clarity can be so easily provided. Some people like crossword puzzles, solitaire and Sudoko. Finding gaps in communications is a game with me.

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