Why not a simple, straightforward directory?

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From C.M., a sign in the Sydney, Australia, suburb of Waterloo:


  1. S said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

    At sixth form, my social circle (most of whom were taking double maths and a science or two) would go out for lunch to a fast food shop on the nearby high street. Our favourite place for chicken and chips was called Real Taste, which happened to be right on a corner; the running joke was that around the corner was Imaginary Taste, which formed a restaurant complex.

  2. Vicki said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

    I've seen complex directories; that's not one. Only five entries, and not one i in any of the floor/building numbers.

  3. Sili said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

    More to the point, what the expletive deleted are "quantum plants"?

    [(myl) I'm not sure, but I think they must be in the imaginary part of the complex directory.]

    I recall some running joke on Pharyngula about "quantum tomatoes", but I don't think those were antipodean.

  4. Ralph said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

    1. Inferiority
    2. Victim
    3A. God
    3B. Messiah
    4. Napoleon

  5. Piyush said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

    @S: There was a similar running joke where I went for undergrad that a P + iJ was a complex poor joke where the joke part was imaginary.

  6. peter said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 3:23 pm


    [(myl) Sorry, fixed now.]

  7. David Morris said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

    I think 'Sidney' is a misspelling for 'Sinny'.

  8. Jacob said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

    "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!" includes a Stephen Sondheim spoof that takes place in a small apartment building populated by neurotics. The title: "A Little Complex."

  9. Bathrobe said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 4:14 pm


    Don't be so subtle, guys, tell them it's 'Sydney'.

  10. Mr Fnortner said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

    In Waterloo it would be that Napoleon complex Ralph noted.

  11. William Steed said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 6:17 pm

    I have to admit that I feel it's poor communication design to list the numbers top-to-bottom when the floors actually go from bottom-to-top. It's counter-intuitive to me.

  12. Ken said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 8:27 pm

    @Sili: I think (and I suspect you do too) that "Quantum" is modifying "plant maintenance": This is a company that maintains plants, and to distinguish it from other such companies they put "Quantum" in the name for reasons that make sense to management and marketing. One question I still have is whether this is the kind of plant maintenance that goes under "Garden Services" or "Cleaning Companies" in the phone directory.

  13. Brett said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 8:35 pm

    @Sili, Ken: Per Google: http://www.quantum.net.au/quantum/Welcome.html

  14. John Chambers said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

    @Ken: The "Quantum" in the name implies to me that you can't know whether they'll do gardening or cleaning until you observe them showing up at your premises. Also, there'll be no correlation between which they do on successive visits.

  15. Ralph said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

    The name makes perfect sense. If your air conditioning breaks down, you can use Quantum mechanics.

  16. Sarah said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 10:33 pm

    Does anyone else think that a change in font size would make "complex directory" parse more naturally? The sign has "complex" bigger than "directory," which for me, makes the primary stress on "complex." That renders the meaning of a directory that is complex. But I think that if "directory" was the bigger of the two words, it would get primary stress and I would read it naturally as "directory of the complex."

  17. Ethan said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 12:17 am

    @Ken: Neither. From their web site, it seems they do the kind of maintenance that requires a Factory Repair Manual. I've always wondered who needed one of those.

  18. Robot Therapist said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 1:46 am

    @Ralph you left out the most important one: Oedipus

  19. tpr said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 2:10 am

    They obviously called it a "Complex Directory" because if they'd called it a "Centre Directory", someone would have written a blog post titled "Why not a peripheral directory?".

    (It sounds more like an industrial estate than a shopping complex/centre though)

  20. Alan Palmer said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 5:00 am

    @ William Steed: looking at the picture, the building only seems to have one floor. I'd guess that the 'complex' comprises four buildings, probably with unit 3 split into two, hence '3A' and '3B'.

  21. Florence Artur said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 11:06 am

    In my world, plant maintenance refers to a factory and its equipment, not to anything vegetal.

  22. Jonathan said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

    Adding to the math stories, my brother once had a long laugh when he noticed a textbook of mine titled 'Basic Complex Analysis'. "Which is it, basic or complex?"

    There's also the phenomenon in the area of math known as Number Theory, where proofs that don't involve complex/imaginary numbers are called "elementary". (Number Theory traditionally only made statements about real numbers, so it took a while for the idea that using complex numbers would be useful to be considered. It turned out that they could be useful, and sometime made proofs much shorter and more elegant.) So you might see a statement followed by a comment that there was both an elementary proof that was complicated and difficult, and a complex proof that was relatively simple.

  23. Brett said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    @Jonathan: I don't think I ever encountered that sense of "elementary" in number theory, back when I was studying pure mathematics. I suppose the reason would be that imaginary numbers were so helpful that there were very few nontrivial proofs we encountered that didn't use them.

    (I don't think there's a misnegation in that last sentence.)

  24. Piyush said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

    @Brett: In fact, the discovery, by Erdos and Selberg, of an "elementary" proof (in the sense of not requiring complex analysis, the latter in the sense not of analysis that is not elementary but in the sense of analysis that uses properties of imaginary numbers) of the prime number theorem was one of the big mathematical discoveries of the 40's, and led to a Fields medals for Selberg.

  25. D.O. said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

    I am not sure it's "complex numbers" that are antonymous to "elementary" in the number theory. The distinction is not a field, but analytics. It's either "elementary" number theory or "analytical" number theory. Of course, if you introduce analytical functions there is little point to confine them to real variables, but it's not the other way around as (1+i)(1-i)=2 teaches us.

  26. Piyush said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

    D. O.:

    But the way "analytical" number theory is distinguished from "elementary" number theory is exactly by its reliance on methods from complex analysis, such as, for example, the Hardy-Littlewood circle method, or in the case of the prime number theorem alluded to above, the properties of the Riemann zeta function (which requires the complex analytic notion of analytic continuation even in its definition).

    However, I am not an expert in number theory, so I might be wrong on the exact nuances between the current usages of the terms "elementary" and "analytical" in number theory.

  27. Brett said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

    The question appears to be whether "elementary" number theory means "without complex numbers" or just "without complex variables."

  28. Mark Stephenson said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 8:28 pm

    I have to disagree with Sarah: The point is that "Complex Directory" here is Noun-Noun, not Adjective-Noun. In Noun-Noun compounds, the stress is usually on the first Noun; whereas in Adjective-Noun constructs, the stress is on the Noun, e.g. LIVING room, but living DAYLIGHTS, WAITING room, but waiting PARENTS. So, the stress on Complex Directory is rightly on "Complex", so it's reasonable for it to be bigger.

  29. Akito said,

    September 23, 2014 @ 9:40 am

    The canonical stress patterns /ˈnoun ˌnoun/ for compound nouns and /ˈadjective ˈnoun/ or /ˌadjective ˈnoun/ for noun phrases are correct, but this has nothing to do with the size of the characters. The designer simply wanted to make the first and second lines the same length.

  30. Sili said,

    September 23, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

    No, I hadn't considered that "Quantum" was supposed to be a name.

    As for the mix-up of plants, I've done that before. In school once when we had to read an excerpt from The Stepford Wives (I think). Weird behaviour was attributed to "the new plants up by the road" and only years later did I realise they were not the vegetation kind.

  31. AlexB said,

    September 24, 2014 @ 9:01 am

    As for the plants, even after nearly 20 years of dealing with various branches of industry, I still chuckle internally each time I hear 'plant manager'.

  32. Mark Stephenson said,

    September 24, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

    Akito said:
    "… this has nothing to do with the size of the characters.The designer simply wanted to make the first and second lines the same length."

    You're right, of course. It's all too easy to let a little linguistic knowledge get in the way of something very obvious. Thanks for the dose of reality!

  33. bevrowe said,

    September 27, 2014 @ 7:07 am

    I think Mark Stephenson is incorrect. We say LIVING room as we are distinguishing it from BEDroom or DRAWING room. But even if I realised that complex was a noun I would still read the notice as complex DIRECTORY because I would be more likely to see notices saying Complex Layout, Complex Enquiries or Complex Parking than other sorts of directories. We emphasise the part of the phrase that feels like a local variable.

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