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Keep calm and carry on
Find out what not to do with your soup in this quiz.

Keep calm and carry on

Keep calm and carry on looks at official and instructive language.

Signs and notices, formal letters etc in English have a particular style to them which may sometimes seem at odds with 'normal everyday' usage. How good are you at identifying and making sense of such expressions? 'Keep calm and carry on'!

You have been to the cinema to watch a 'thriller' (some kind of psychological drama, involving a lot of tension and/or adrenaline): on your way out, among quite a large and volatile crowd, you pass a doorway ~ presumably leading outside into the open air ~ equipped with a crash-bar and a sign which reads:
'Emergency Exit Only : This Door Is Alarmed.'
Your British companion laughs as you point to it: why?
It would be possible to leave the cinema that way, but you could get into trouble if this is not an actual emergency.
Your friend thinks 'alarmed' is a funny way to describe a door in a cinema where they have been showing horror movies, because, surely, not even the building can feel frightened.
If anyone tries to come back in through the doorway (perhaps intending to see the film without paying), various bells and sirens will immediately start to sound. (Maybe your friend tried this once, and has uncomfortable memories of the experience?)
Your friend is imagining the emergency services (as in the climax of the film) coming in and out through this doorway.
'Alarmed' is a slightly strange (but reasonably understandable) way of saying, in a clear simple signboard, that the doorway is equipped with sensors and sounders, so that it will start up the sirens if anyone opens it except during a genuine emergency, such as a fire. We do also sometimes describe people, or even animals, as 'alarmed' ('My dog was alarmed by the fireworks next door'; 'Her parents were alarmed to think of her going to live with such a man') ~ so 'an alarmed door' does sound somewhat peculiar.
Choose the Answer which best suits or completes the sentence.
'We should warn you in advance that this report contains scenes that some viewers ... ... '
... might find distressing.'
... could be upset by.'
... of a nervous disposition may find disturbing.'
... could prefer their children not to watch.'
Such an alert during serious television news would need to be short as well as clear, so Answer 1 is the most likely. Answer 2 is grammatically sloppy; Answer 3 is possible but wordy (and may give viewers a moment longer to turn their attention elsewhere); Answer 4 means well but is not very tidy.
Inside a crowded bus, you can see most of the wording on a warning notice alongside the driver's seat ~ except the first few words ~ as follows:
' ... ... speak to the driver while the vehicle is in motion, except in case of an emergency.'
You have a few guesses as to what the missing words are at the front. Which is the LEAST likely?
Passengers should not ...
It is prohibited to ...
You are not allowed to ...
Passengers are forbidden to ...
Any of Answers 1, 2 or 4 would be more likely than No.3 ~ which is clear enough, for sure, yet somehow inadequately formal for this context with its serious concerns for public safety.
Driving a hire-car in Britain (very probably 'on the wrong side of the road' for you), you come out of a complicated and stressful road junction into a length of street where two parallel lanes of traffic run side-by-side. A little further on, this road curves to one side, and you can see ahead of you that its width also reduces to one single lane.
There is a sign beside the road which says MERGE IN TURN. What does this mean?
The two lanes of traffic should amalgamate into one, just while also going round the curve. (This strikes you as perverse, and almost an invitation to an accident ... )
Vehicles in one lane should let each other through on an alternate basis ('an A car, then a B car ...' as it were, like the teeth on a zip-fastener or the fingers in a pair of praying hands), because that's the most obvious and fairest way of sharing priority while keeping the traffic flowing.
Traffic on the inside of the curve has priority over anything in the outer lane.
Traffic should wait to blend into a single lane beyond the curved stretch of the road.
Answer 1 seems clear but frightening (your author knows, from being startled by it, an example of just such a sign at a notoriously busy major-road junction not far from Oxford, and it may not be the only such one). Fortunately, if perhaps surprisingly, it is the wrong answer; No.2 is correct.
Answer 1 happens not to be wrong, but the primary meaning is as in Answer 2; Nos. 3 & 4 are not true.
Which of these versions of a sign (at an entrance to a park or, perhaps, a cemetery) expresses its message in a way that is clear and polite, without being too 'wordy'?
Any dogs should be on a lead
No unleaded dogs thank you
Dogs prohibited past this point unless on a leash
Please keep your dog on a lead
Answer 4 is both polite and clear.
Answer 1 remains slightly vague; Answer 2 misinterprets the word 'unleaded' ('un-LEDD-id', as in car fuel; not 'un-LEED-ed'): Answer 3 is too wordy.
'Leash' is a slightly old-fashioned equivalent word for 'lead' in this context.
Meanwhle you may have noticed that nothing is said about 'assistance dogs' (guide dogs for the blind, and equivalent trained dogs for those who are deaf or have other impairments).
Choose the Answer which best suits or completes the sentence.
'Young children ... ... be carried on this escalator.'
... must ...
... should ...
... ought to ...
... might ...
Answer 1 appears to suggest that the carrying of children is compulsory ('What if you haven't got any?' as George Mikes once asked in comparable circumstances); Answer 2 is the correct one, saying that any such children as there are should be carried rather than riding the escalator directly themselves. Answer 3 is more colloquial than formal; Answer 4 is so weak and vague as hardly to be worth the cost of the signage!
You go to visit a historic building and/or museum, where a notice near the entrance announces:
'Open 10am - 5pm ; guided tours each hour on the half-hour ; last admissions 20 minutes before closing'.
What is the latest time that you could expect to go in, either guided or un-guided?
4 pm
4.30 pm
4.40 pm
4.45 pm
The final guided tour would set off at 4.30, but the doors are open for un-guided visitors until 4.40 pm.
(Please re-read the 'notice' if unsure as to why!)
Choose the Answer which best suits or completes the sentence.
'Passengers are ... ... that due to adverse weather conditions, many services may be subject to delay or cancellation this morning.'
... advised ...
... warned ...
... informed ...
... told ...
The announcement is indeed tantamount to a warning (as suggested in Answer 2), but that word in itself is probably regarded as too 'worrying' ~ so transport networks prefer to use the more positive and collaborative term 'advised', and then let their would-be passengers draw their own conclusion as to the seriousness and detail of the impact of the information.
Even where you are seeking advice on how to behave (in Britain or elsewhere), you may find some surprising instructions.
You have been invited to a fairly formal dinner party, and a friend shows you a page in an Etiquette Book where it says:
'It is considered poor manners on the part of a guest to crumble their bread or roll in the soup.'
Your friend laughs at this advice: why?
He knows you will not be offered soup at this particular dinner.
He knows you do not like eating bread, so he is confident you will not find yourself making such a mistake in your own behaviour.
He does not think it likely that you will decide to roll in the soup.
He has seen you putting 'sops' of bread (yes, that's where the word comes from; as in 'sopping wet') into your soup before, and wants to give you a friendly warning not to do this in a more formal setting.
There was an (unintended) pun on 'roll' in the original: the writer meant 'Don't break up your bread-roll into little floating chunks', but the instruction could be read as: 'Do not crumble your bread, and neither should you roll (yourself around) in the soup'.
Formal, 'noticeboard and instructions' English (along with scientific reports) is very fond of adopting the Passive Voice.
Here is a short extract from instructions offered, in a women's magazine, to new mothers (pre-1952!) about how to use a drinking-bottle safely with their babies:
'When the baby has finished drinking, it should be unscrewed and left under a tap to rinse. If the baby does not thrive on fresh milk, it should be boiled.'
Why might some apprehensive readers find this baffling?
They are not sure whether to try boiling only the milk, or the whole bottle with the milk inside it.
They are alarmed (!) by the apparent suggestion of 'unscrewing the baby' ~ presumably by twisting its head? ~ once the drinking is over.
They are worried at the thought of boiling their baby if it does not gladly drink cold milk.
The wording of the advice (though well-meant) is so sloppy that either or both of Answers 2 and 3 could be true; once the new mother 'gets the wrong end of the stick', the possibilities are doubly grotesque!
Answer 4, bizarre though it may seem, is correct. Let this be a warning to you about sloppy use of pronouns!
Author:  Ian Miles

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