A Perfect, Imperfect Sign

On vacation in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I try not to focus on business writing. But it's a habit that's hard to break. Words, phrases, and messages grab my attention, even on vacation.

Here's a sign I like for its brevity and directness, though traditionalists may quibble with its structure.



Do you like it? I appreciate the no-nonsense "DON'T DROWN." I also like the clear action: "TURN AROUND." What could be clearer?

Even "WHEN FLOODED" works. Everyone knows what that means.

UPDATE on December 19: Reader Laura informed me that "Turn Around Don't Drown" is actually an ad campaign that  is part of National Weather Service communications. Thank you, Laura!



But traditionalists may need a few small corrections for their sign. Do you?

What do you think of these markups? 




Why the addition of "IT'S"? Without it, the structure suggests that you, the reader, are flooded. Compare it with instructions like these: "When [you are ] ready, ring bell" and "When [you are] calling out, dial 1." But of course, this sentence does not mean "When you are flooded." It refers to the road or bridge ahead. However, in a flood I don' t think people would stop to analyze the structure–well, maybe one or two of my readers would. We are all about the language. 

Greetings from the Land of Enchantment! That's the motto of New Mexico. 

Syntax Training


  1. A sign has to the job to communicate as much as possible in a minimum of words and space. You’ll probably be driving while reading the sign and “flooded” has to stand out to encourage a fast reaction to not …drown.

  2. The sign is appropriate and very direct. It is just what it needs to be as a warning intended to save lives. The reader would likely not have time to read a fully developed sentence. I appreciate the sign as is!


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