Washroom or restroom doors might not be the most appropriate venue for concise communication. In some places, clarity trumps all.
Shopping for hiking gear at a large huntin’ and fishin’ supply store, I am interrupted, appropriately enough, by nature’s call. Tracking the wily restrooms through the tangled undergrowth, I come upon doors labelled Bucks and Does. But the doors also carry the more-or-less standard male/female pictograms and the English words: Men and Women.
Irritated, I stop to glare at this mish-mash. How redundant. How inelegant. Does no one know when enough is enough, any more?
Through more than 20 years of business writing and editing, I have become a ruthless eliminator of redundancy. Extra words: Out! Repetitive content: Out! Unnecessary thoughts: Out!
Often working with a page limit, I have no need to justify this spare style to anyone. Never waste space: that’s the rule. So it is that a practice appropriate, nay, necessary, in my work day has insinuated itself into my day to day. I mentally edit menus, signs, and brochures, muttering under my breath about the lack of concision. In this case, for example, surely a single label would have sufficed.
Yet as I stand before the thrice-labelled doors, still shaking my head, part of me acknowledges that restroom-door labels have been confusing me—in all my many versions—for almost as long as I can remember.
There was the grade-schooler me, standing in The Highlander, a Scottish-themed hotel in Calgary, baffled by two doors: Laddies and Lassies. The former was tricky close to the Ladies I might reasonably use, and the latter was a word a grade-schooler had no reason to know.
There was the young-teenager me, living through the advent of pictograms in place of words: a practice rooted, perhaps, in the wishful-thinking notion that communication problems are rooted in language. As my older-and-therefore-wiser brother remarked drily, he always had to check the alternative.
There was the twenty-something me, noting the rise of cutesy restroom names. XX and XY in a bar near a university? Well, OK, maybe. But Buoys and Gulls in a seafood restaurant? Pointers and Setters in a country bar? Even I had to check the alternative: these punny labels would give fits to anyone for whom English was a second language.
Nor are puns the only source of confusion; nor is my demographic the only one confused. Our recent sojourn in metro Phoenix saw us hosting two grade-school girls. As each, in turn, headed off to the restroom in the Southern-California-themed restaurant, I had a clear sightline of their progress. I watched as each, in turn, paused slightly at the entrance to the restroom hallway before making their slightly uncertain selection.
When it came my turn, I saw the issue. The first door I could see said Bros in curvaceous script. Bros? I looked around for the alternative. Bettys. OK, then. Given those options, the choice seemed clear, if not entirely understandable.
And I guess that’s all I really want when nature calls: that the choice be clear. Preferably without having to check the alternative.
As I finally push open my restroom door, sure of avoiding all bucks, men, and male pictograms, I have to admit that sometimes, clarity and certainty are worth the inelegance of a little redundancy.