Do Not Follow Not

As we come up on the gravel truck, I squint. At freeway speed, the spray-painted, stencilled message is a tad small for reading but the first two lines are legible enough if not exactly clear as a result.


Non-standard uses of negations usually annoy me, often confuse me, and only rarely charm me. I ponder what this one might mean and decide it would net out to a Yoda-like injunction to FOLLOW.

But get your hopes up not, more there is, shown here with the line breaks exactly as seen in the wild.


Ah. The issue here is more mundane than sly movie references. (I would be tempted to say more pedestrian if we weren’t barreling along at 70 miles/hour.) No, this is what we might call a failure to chunk, and it is pervasive.

Before extensive Googling on this subject, I would have called this a failure to parse, but I find no dictionary that supports my use of parse to mean “breaking a communication into its logical/meaningful bits that should connect visually, dagnab it,” not even as an extended meaning. Parsing seems to have more to do with identifying grammatical parts of a sentence and how they relate to one another, and is associated with sentence diagramming which, in turn, is associated in my mind with endless/tedious blackboard work in Grade 8. There is, of course, an app for all that now, with the tedium available as an in-app purchase.

Anyway, chunking seems to be what I want: both the word and the thing itself that so many sign writers and headline layout-ers ignore.

In a previous life, the thing or, more accurately/honestly, my dogged pursuit of the thing, used to drive a graphics layout-er crazy. I would send down an ugly/amateurish mock-up of the cover page I wanted; he would make it pretty/professional (hurray) but also uncouple any sense in the project’s title from the line breaks (boo). He fixated on how the lines looked on the page, achieving some Zen-like balance that was lost on me as I struggled to read a title with overhanging meanings.

A Proposal for Airport
Maintenance at Cold
Lake, Alberta

That sort of thing. Shudder.

I now have nothing to do with proposal cover pages (hurray) but continue to see chunking failures in blog titles that run into two lines with a break that defaults to the one assigned by the word processor (boo). (There’s a reason they’re not called meaning processors. It is, indeed, just one dagnabbed word at a time.)

My theory of dinosaurs, chrysanthemums, and red cabbage and their relation to

That sort of thing. Shudder.

Be the change you want to see

Stop it.

Be the change
you want to see happen.

In these words of Arleen Lorrance and true to the spirit of Gandhi, although I won’t embark on a retirement career in sign-and-headline editing I will offer this re-chunked version to the Universe. What comes of it, comes.


As for you, gentle reader, I encourage you to do-not-follow-not me in this small effort to observe, correct, and prevent this shudderism where you can.


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11 Responses to Do Not Follow Not

  1. barbara carlson says:

    That tape used at crime scenes is another confusing mess. POLICE DO NOT CROSS POLICE DO NOT CROSS etc. in one long sentence.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – It’s a round, maybe. Start anywhere. Well, almost anywhere.

      • barbara carlson says:

        One summer, arriving at a friend’s cottage early we put some of this tape around their porch… laughter ensued when they arrived… after they saw US. (Can’t remember where we got a few metres of the tape — we did not take it from a crime scene… I don’t think.)

  2. My most recent, and happiest, encounter with “chunking” comes through Dennis Duncan’s *Index, A History of the* although (at the midpoint of reading) the graphics of published texts are not his main point. Perhaps you are on your way to writing the companion piece, *Graphics, Correct
    [your] Chunking of”?

  3. (Apologies for the name slip. And the self-correcting formatting in this system spoils MY graphic. Tsk.)

  4. Ken from Kenora says:

    Sound advice indeed. DO NOT CROSS (the) POLICE. Something I follow assiduously.

  5. Jim Taylor says:

    My all time favourite is a headline in a Soviet-era newspaper:
    On reading, it had something to do with agriculture, with the conversion of unlogged (virgin) boreal forest into farmland. So it should have read:

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Yeah, this whole thing that English does where a word can be either noun or verb and there’s no marker to make the distinction is the source of lots of confusion. I often stumble in reading for that reason alone.

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