Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ambiguous Language

Language by its very nature is limiting.  It is a symbolic representation of thought. The job of a librarian is to organize the chaos of information.  I like to make fun of imprecise language.  I saw a sign for an event that said, “Limited seating.” The creator of the sign wants the readers to sign up right away.  He wants to fill the venue.  What does “limited” mean? It could mean the size of the seats is limited.

I checked and found the width of economy airline seats are between 17” and18”.  Train seats are about 20” and the desk chair I am sitting in while writing this blog is 24” Every chair is limited, but how does this limitation work?  A person with a 32” waist has about a 12 inch diameter, leaving about 5” of wiggle room.  I doubt the sign creator wants the readers to even care about size of the seats.  The limitation must be the number of seats in the venue.  Since every venue has a finite number of seats and space, they are limited.  So—what does “limited” mean in this context?  If the venue is a sports stadium there could be 50, 60, or 70 thousand seats.  If you wanted to go to a big game, the venue could be sold out. If you wanted season tickets, there could be none available. Is 70,000 a limited seating place?  “Yes!”  I doubt the event in the above sign has 70,000 seats available in the venue. I doubt 1000 seats are available.

What if a theatrical play had a limited run of two weeks?  The limitation could be based on contractual agreements to be in several cities.  The run in one city could not be extended because the production needs to move to the next place.  If the play had an open run has seating unlimited by a planned end date. The open run will continue as long as they can make money and fill the theater.  But it still would be limited by the laws of time and space. They could not schedule more performances in a day than can be fit into 24 hours. The play could be sold out one night and have plenty of empty seats the next.  Everything has limits.  Perhaps the sign creator could have conveyed the message more precisely by stating, “seating limited to the first 125 reservations?” That would tell the reader to make a reservation quickly to avoid disappointment and tell them they could not bring 126 friends.

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