He’s still waiting

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From Francois Lang:

Attached is a photo of a sign in the washroom at Heckman’s Deli in Bethesda, MD

I kept waiting for all the employees to wash my hands. I even asked. But nothing. Maybe it was something I said?

In another example of fun with pronouns and implicit subjects, my university’s front page currently features this captioned image:

A few of the many LLOG posts on the implicit-subjects question, subcategory “dangling participles”:

Dangling etiquette“, 12/14/2003
Stunning inept modifier manners“, 3/10/2005
Dangling modifier in The Declaration of Independence“, 7/4/2005
The Fellowship of the Predicative Adjunct“, 5/12/2005
A dangler in The Economist“, 10/8/2009
Does it really matter if it dangles?“, 11/20/2010



38 Comments

  1. Mark Meckes said,

    October 19, 2016 @ 8:25 pm

    I had to read the caption on the second image several times before understanding why it was posted here (partly because I read quickly and didn’t notice the reference to “implicit subjects”). I frequently do find myself brought up short by such constructions, even when the intended meaning is clear, but in this case for some reason the unintended alternative reading just didn’t occur to me at first.

  2. David Morris said,

    October 19, 2016 @ 8:30 pm

    And it’s not enough for one employee to wash your hands – all of them must do it.

  3. Ray said,

    October 19, 2016 @ 9:59 pm

    LOL. (I also love that “artists’ souls” is in chris farley air quotes.)

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    October 19, 2016 @ 10:20 pm

    The way I read it, you can exit the bethroom at any time. But any employees who have not yet washed your hands are stuck in there until you return.

  5. peterv said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 12:25 am

    At least it is better than the Microsoft version would be (“My documents”, etc):

    “All employees must wash my hands before exiting the bathroom.”

  6. Thomas Rees said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 2:27 am

    Here in Southern California, there are signs saying “laven sus manos” instead of “lávense las manos”. The first seems to say “wash his hands”. They don’t understand the so-called reflexive.

  7. Gambedda Vochedda said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 7:55 am

    Sounds like an awesome, luxurious, almost biblical experience. Do they wash feet as well?

    Anybody scandalized by the non-euphemism “bathroom”?

  8. philip said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 8:36 am

    It is not just the employees of this particular deli who are obliged to wash your hands before they leave the bathroom, but anyone who enters the bathroom who is not self-employed, unemployed, an employer, retired etc.

  9. rosie said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 10:42 am

    Following from what peterv said, this is exactly why, even though I have used Windows for 17 years, I never use its “My Documents”, “My Music” etc. directories — the computer was telling me ‘the things here are mine’, so I left them alone.

  10. Ellen K. said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

    @Gambedda Vochedda

    I’m pretty sure no one takes a bath at Deli. It’s still a euphemism, just one that’s lost a lot of it’s euphemistic power. Or is there another term for a former euphemism that’s lost it’s literal meaning?

  11. Peter said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

    @Gambedda V, @Ellen K

    In my experience, bathroom is an AmE/BrE (/AusE etc) difference. For many AmE speakers, bathroom is the default unmarked word for the room where you discharge bodily wastes — neither particularly blunt (as toilet would be) nor at all overly polite (as restroom). Meanwhile, many BrE speakers consider it euphemistic to the point of pretentiousness — some through genuine unfamiliarity with the usage, some through deliberate anti-Americanism.

  12. pj said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 2:30 pm

    @Gambedda V, Ellen K, Peter
    Agreed, Peter, definitely an AmE/BrE difference: standard BrEng speaker here, who had to do a double-take at Gambedda’s post referring to the word as a non-euphemism, before calling to mind ‘restroom’ as the presumably less-scandalising alternative. ‘Bathroom’ certainly hasn’t lost its literal meaning in BrE. If I refer to a room as a bathroom, it’s got a bath in it.

  13. Gregory Kusnick said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 4:25 pm

    In US real estate jargon, a bathroom with no bath is a half-bath.

  14. chris said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 5:54 pm

    Really startling dangler I spotted on another site, in a thread about the recent US presidential debate:

    As a hardcore racist, I think a black or brown man also could have goaded [Donald Trump’s] ego badly

    Took me a second to realize the poster was not confessing to hardcore racism, but accusing Trump of it. Probably because of the similarity to much more common formulations like “As an American, I believe…”

  15. Lazar said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 7:06 pm

    What’s often ignored in discussions of AmEng ‘bathroom’ is that ‘toilet’, ‘lavatory’ and nearly every other term for it have similarly euphemistic origins. As Peter indicates, though, the British or Antipodean use of “toilet” tends to strike Americans as blunt or vulgar – for us that word really refers to the porcelain fixture itself, and only to the room that it’s in as a sort of dysphemism.

    @chris: That use of the dangling “As a [self-descriptor]” is super common on Reddit.

  16. Bloix said,

    October 20, 2016 @ 9:36 pm

    “neither particularly blunt (as toilet would be)”
    “Toilet,” the diminutive of toile, originally meant a small cloth, then the cloth cover on a dressing table, then the dressing table itself, then the acts of washing, dressing, making up (a woman at her toilet), then a dressing room or washroom. So it’s every bit as euphemistic as “bathroom.”

  17. Johan P said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 6:13 am

    @Bloix

    Well, or rather it has been, as the welcome extension of your admirable chain of language evolution. From dressing room to just washroom to the actual bodily waste receptacle instead. (I would say WC, but that’s obviously another not-euphemism.) In Britain it’s not blunt to use but in the US it certainly is.

    Mind you, I come from a country, Sweden, where “I’m just going to go pee” is perfectly polite in most contexts, so we think you’re all pretty euphemistic. ^_^ Our euphemisms are often related to folk religion or superstition, substituting for taboo words that were thought to bring down evil. Linguists in Sweden use the term “noa” words for them, from the same Polynesian origin as “taboo”.

  18. philip said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 7:45 am

    Ach c’mon Johan P, don’t leave us in suspenders. Share some of those words that were thought to bring down evil.

  19. Johan P said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 8:18 am

    @philip

    No! They might come for me!

    Ooooh, alright, then. Thing is, we’ve actually got a few of this sort of origin in English as well, albeit older and since gone non-euphemistic – like “bear”, which is cognate with brown, used as a noa word for the animal whose original indo-european form was probably *h₂ŕ̥tḱos.

    A lot of the other ones are also animals in Swedish. Wolf was originally the cognate “ulv” (and still is in neigbouring countries), but was replaced by the noa word “Varg” (originally meaning “stranger”). When that dropped its euphemistic nature and became the normal word, other noa words like “Gråben” (grey legs), “Gullfot” (golden foot, so as not to offend) or “Tusse” (marshland creature) were used instead. Some people in the countryside still won’t call a wolf varg.

    The Devil (which, remember, you’re not supposed to speak of in English either, “Speak of the devil and he doth appear”) would have noa names like “Den Onde” (the evil one) or “Hin Håle” (the hard one).

    You’ll also find noa euphemisms for things like thunder and (hen-stealing) foxes, and rather more strangely magpies and seals.

    Of course, a lot of these are archaic and not really used any more, but it’s an interesting phenomenon.

  20. Johan P said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 8:20 am

    Oh, two more in English from the world of theatre that are more current: “Break a leg” is a noa word for the taboo “good luck”, and “The Scottish play” is a noa word for the taboo “Macbeth”.

  21. Robert Coren said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 10:09 am

    I don’t know if this is still true, but it certainly used to be that the French had no problem labelling an enclosure intended for urination a “pissoir”, and I know for certain that, while in Munich in 1970, I saw such an enclosure labelled “Pissort” (Ort is German for “place”). The corresponding enclosure for the elimination of solid waste, as I recall, was “Abort” (ab = “away”, “down”), so not as explicit.

  22. DWalker07 said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 10:31 am

    @Bloix, that’s fascinating.

    Kids often snicker at “toilet water” and wonder where this water comes from. Novels set in “olden” times often mention something like “a woman at her toilet”, or “finishing her toiletting”, or whatever.

    Is toile related to tulle?

  23. MattF said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 11:21 am

    I’ve heard ‘commode’ used as a euphemism for ‘toilet’.

  24. Rodger C said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

    To me “commode” is specifically the fixture. I was in my teens before I knew it had ever meant anything else.

  25. Viseguy said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 1:12 pm

    Must be a big bathroom, since all employees have to wash your hands before any of them can leave it. And do these employees ever get to do anything else, like make sandwiches? (Come to think of it, given their bathroom duties, I wouldn’t want any of them to make my sandwich.)

  26. Hans Adler said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 1:48 pm

    Some of my fellow readers seem to be scandalised by the idea that all the employees who were present in the bathroom with Mr Lang resigned to staying there until their contracts were terminated, so as not to trigger the obligation to wash Mr Lang’s hands.

    However, as a logician I can’t resist pointing out that Mr Lang’s experience isn’t necessarily as scandalous as it appears at first sight. As he doesn’t actually tell us how many employees were with him in the bathroom, it would appear likely that the reason he waited in vain was that he was the only one in the bathroom.

  27. Thomas Rees said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

    @ DWalker07
    I believe ‘tulle’ is from a town in Nouvelle-Aquitaine (France).

  28. Greg Malivuk said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

    As far as I know, all English words (in every dialect) for the place are dysphemisms or started out as euphemism, even if they no longer feel euphemistic today. (Some are possibly even both, such as “toilet” in American English.) The same seems to be true of words for coitus (including “coitus”).

  29. Richard said,

    October 21, 2016 @ 7:51 pm

    Now that we have veered into a discussion of euphemisms, I feel justified in mentioning my favorite example of the artist rebuking the critics.

    German composer Max Reger responded to one particularly harsh review of his work by telling the reviewer:

    “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me!”

  30. Julian Neuer said,

    October 22, 2016 @ 10:35 am

    That reminds me of a common mistake when Portuguese speakers translate to English.

    In Portuguese, you can use either of two pronouns to address the person you’re talking to: ‘tu’ (second person) or ‘você’ (third person, a contraction of ‘vossa Mercê’, meaning ‘your Mercy’).

    When you use ‘você’, all other pronouns (e.g., possessive) must be third person too. So, in Portuguese, the phrase ‘suas mãos’ has two meanings:

    His/her hands

    Your hands (hands belonging to você)

    A similar phenomenon happens in Spanish, French and Italian. Maybe in other languages too?

    But I have no idea why this would appear in a sign in MD.

  31. Robert Coren said,

    October 22, 2016 @ 1:05 pm

    @Julian Nauer:

    It doesn’t happen in French; the “polite” form of the second person singular is simply the second person plural.

    It does happen in German, where the “polite” form is third person plural (distinguished in writing by using initial capitals, but indistinguishable in speech).

  32. Milan said,

    October 22, 2016 @ 6:54 pm

    @Greg Malivuk
    “(Having) sex” doesn’t feel dysphemistic or euphemistic to this (non-native) speaker, only somewhat colloquial. Neither are the origins particularly euphemistic, the word either being a kind of clipping of “sexual intercourse” or an extension of “sex” (state of being either male or female).

  33. Bill Burns said,

    October 22, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

    I used to buy toilet paper, then I had to switch to toilet tissue. A bit later only bathroom tissue was available, and now in many stores I have to buy bath tissue.

  34. Graeme said,

    October 23, 2016 @ 1:51 am

    Labour law teacher here. Employees are 1. servants/labour costs/risks and yet 2. individuals management has to at least pretend to care about.

    Ergo 1. ‘All employees must…. ‘ then ‘your hands…’

  35. David Marjanović said,

    October 23, 2016 @ 6:42 pm

    ATTENTION: ALL EMPLOYEES
    YOU MUST WASH YOUR HANDS […]

    “bear”, which is cognate with brown

    Probably rather with Latin ferus.

  36. ryan said,

    October 23, 2016 @ 10:48 pm

    >As far as I know, all English words (in every dialect) for the place are dysphemisms or started out as euphemism, even if they no longer feel euphemistic today.

    I feel vulgar for writing this, but I don’t see how shithouse can be a euphemism, unless shit itself had a different meaning a millennium or so ago.

    Perhaps all the English words for the indoor version are euphemistic.

  37. ryan said,

    October 23, 2016 @ 11:59 pm

    I should have looked up dysphemism before. Yet, I’m not convinced shithouse should be considered a dysphemism. It’s straightforward, not circumlocutory.

  38. philip said,

    October 24, 2016 @ 9:04 am

    Thanks Johan P

    In Irish we are also a bit wary of the wolf (although we got rid of them a long time ago). When they were about, the most common noun for them was a euphemism – mac tire – which translated literally as ‘son of the country/land’. There is a saying in Irish that translates as ‘Everything comes when called, expect the fox and the corpse’ (alternative meaning = the lazy), which explains the myriad nicknames and euphemism for the devil – Hoofed Man, the Black Man, etc.

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