A glazed panel in the absence of manifestations

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From E.L. at The Guardian:

I saw this sign (photo attached) at the Guardian offices in London and, as a frequent (albeit non-linguist) reader of the site, I thought Language Log might be able to assist. I'm genuinely baffled as to its meaning. It may be something to do with being careful about walking into see-through barriers – our building is a very modern steel-and-glass affair, but the big windows are all safely marked with visibility flashes or logos, and there hasn't been a problem in the four years since it opened, as far as I know. The best we could come up with on the subs' desk was that it might mean something like 'Caution: this sign has a glass panel on the front that is hard to see if there is no poster behind it'.

It's a central London office run by a British management company, so it seems unlikely that it was written by someone with English as a second language, but there is an ineffable something of Google Translate about it.

I'm equally baffled. Perhaps a frustrated poet, forced into a career in building management?

so much depends
a glazed panel

in the absence
of manifestations


  1. Keith Clarke said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

    It seems to be simply nerd view, e.g. http://www.purlsafe.com/safety-glass-manifestation—crosses-strip.php

    "Safety glass manifestation – Crosses strip
    "We have a wide range of manifestations for glass in a choice of designs, colours and sizes, for safety or decorative purposes.

    "Critical locations include unframed glazing, glazing that is more than 40cm wide, glazed doors and windows without mullions, transoms or large handles, or large ares of glazing that would appear to open."

  2. y said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

    I believe it means The Manifestations (a folk-rock outfit, maybe Irish) had to cancel. Glazed Panel (an indie band) are going to play instead.

  3. Sam said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

    This is not a full explanation, but it appears that "manifestation" is a term of art in the glass industry, for logos or other marks applied to glass panels to make them more visible.

    A quick Google search turns up many companies offering to sell you manifestations, which in some jurisdictions are required by law on large glass windows in office buildings. For example:


  4. Kevin Friery said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

    One possible explanation might be about optical illusions – 'spiritualists' would use a glass panel in a darkened room or on a stage to create an illusion of a ghost (or 'manifestation). I could imagine a situation in which this notice would warn an unwary worker that such a glass panel (more or less invisible to the naked eye) was in situ when no performance was taking place…?

  5. mike said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

    Could be "sign" or "display" — ? Seems like one would have to round-trip "manifestation" through Google Translate in various languages (which, though?) to track this one down.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

    It means, "Don't walk into one of the glass panels even when they are not marked with dots, colored tape, or other indications of their presence."

  7. Bill Bedford said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

    It means "What you saw was a reflection not some ghostly apparition"

  8. nonky said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

    The sign is referring to glazing manifestation: something I had never really noticed until I learned what it was called.

    There are photographic examples in the Manifestation group on Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/groups/manifestation/

    The group description includes an excerpt from the regulations:

    Manifestation of glazing

    Transparent glazing with which people are likely to collide whilst in passage in or about the building shall incorporate features which make it apparent.

    This includes large areas of uninterrupted, transparent, door height glazing in non-domestic buildings, where the glazing may not be immediately apparent and which is not separating obviously different levels. Manifestation shall be made by some form of pattern on the glass at or about 1500mm from floor level. Manifestation would not normally be required where there are mullions closer than 400mm centres, transoms between 600mm and 1500mm from floor level or doors with substantial frames or devious handles.

    Manifestation can take various forms e.g. broken or solid lines, patterns or company logos.

    Building Regulations 1991
    (This requirement is for non domestic Buildings only)

    As of 1st May 2004 all Manifestation of glazing also needs to comply with Part M (2004) of the Building Regulations

  9. Dick Margulis said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

    The doughnut is really there whether ghosts are present or not.

  10. Rod Johnson said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

    "Manifestation" is a legal term in the UK (maybe elsewhere too) for glass treatments that make windows visible. See a reference here.

  11. MonkeyBoy said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

    A simple search for "glass manifestation" shows that it a technical (UK only?) term for something "designed to be applied to glass windows, door and partitions to help stop people walking into the glass and possibly causing injury.", presumably used mainly by manufacturers and designers.

    The sign is the arrogance of assuming everybody knows the technical language, that is unless it really is part of ordinary UK vocabulary.

  12. Fraser said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

    Quite often when dealing with second-language stumbles I find an automated thesaurus useful for backtracking. I assume that somebody is unsatisfied with a word they've used and uses a built-in thesaurus to find an alternative.

    My quickie thesaurus search offers manifestation as an alternative for sign. And it's a much more impressive word, obviously, much more suitable for an intimidating journalistic environment!

    So I am throwing in my lot with the "absence of safety markers" suggestions.

  13. Fraser said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

    The comments by Rod and Monkeyboy manifested while I was preparing my theory; I didn't see them until it was too late!

    Can I throw my lot in with them instead?

  14. Matt said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

    It's outside a room being used for experiments with mediums & explains the bored look of the scientific panel as no ghosts show.


  15. James C. said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    So it appears that this is an example of nerdview.

  16. Sjiveru said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    This, I guess, is just another one of those examples of technically-skilled people forgetting that people outside their industry don't use the same terminology they do. I've never seen anything this confusing myself, but I've heard things like cafeteria managers telling customers they were 'out of product' (i.e. a kind of food) – something no one outside the food service industry would ever say.

  17. Sjiveru said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

    Didn't know 'nerdview' was the term for that until now, though.

  18. the Wardle said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

    I once worked in a newly opened glass building, one that was still having the finishing touches added to the inside, manifestations included. We called them by their "technical" name because it was easier than saying "some bright spark's drawn a smiley face on one of the little stickery logo things on the glass."

    And yes, they are most definitely there to stop partially sighted building users from walking into the walls.

  19. Birdseeding said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

    Is this specific use of "manifestation(s)" generally a countable noun as the original post implies, or an uncountable noun as per the example nonky's post? Does a poorly marked window have few manifestations or little manifestation?

    Also wondering about how the term came to be applied in this specific way. Earliest recorded use?

    [(myl) Interestingly, this usage is exemplified in a 1991 regulation (quoted above), but is missing from the OED's entry for manifestation, which was updated in 2000.]

  20. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

    @nonky: That addresses one question, but raises another: what the heck is a "devious handle"?!

    [(myl) Apparently "devious handles" are really, as they say, a thing. Thus this is "A bronze vase, after the antique, cast with masks and devious handles":

    Like manifestation in the sense of "stuff on a glass panel to keep people from walking through it", this meaning of devious is not in the OED. We seem to have found a pocket of lexicographic terra incognita.]

  21. RF said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

    "It's nerdview," say the kind of people who use terms like nerdview and assume we all know what they mean.

  22. Ø said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

    Let me get this straight. This is somebody's way of saying "We haven't put anything on the window to warn you against bumping into it, so we're putting this sign on the window to warn you against bumping into it".

  23. Victor Mair said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

    This sign is a general warning to beware of glass panels without manifestations throughout the building. It is probably posted somewhere near the entrance, the elevators, the stairways, etc.

  24. nonky said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 7:13 pm

    @Ran Ari-Gur: Now I need to find out what the heck a "devious handle" is. Something less obvious than an obvious handle, perhaps.

  25. Mark Mandel said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

    Here's my guess on "devious handles". Ordinary doorknobs extend only maybe 4 or 5 inches from the door surface, max, and straight out (perpendicular to the door). Same for many lever handles: they come straight out far enough to let you get a grip on them; then they angle 90º toward the center of the doorway, but just long enough to accommodate an adult hand, maybe 5 – 6" max. And many doors in public places have a vertical bar for a handle, also mounted straight out from (near) the edge of the door.

    But some door handles are vertical bars whose mounting comes straight out from the edge, then makes a 90º turn toward the center of the door. The handle is maybe 4 – 6" inboard of the edge, and together with the parts of the supports that are parallel to the plane of the door (and are often also shaped to afford a grip), they are quite visible on all-glass doors. The right-angle turn deviates from the short straight mounting.

    And that's my guess, for a legal jargon that calls signs and stickers "manifestations".

  26. Mark Mandel said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

    @Ø: Cf signs saying only DO NOT DEFACE THIS SIGN.

  27. Keith M Ellis said,

    March 10, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

    "'It's nerdview,' say the kind of people who use terms like nerdview and assume we all know what they mean."

    That's pretty funny. But it doesn't really apply because nerdview is both a technical usage for a general audience and when the usage is not self-evidently technical jargon and not more-or-less comprehensible in context.

    For example, this use of manifestation is a very good example because it's a very technical usage that few in an general audience will recognize but it's also a reasonably familiar word that the uninformed members of the general audience will try to parse normally and befuddlement will follow.

    Nerdview is obviously jargon and anyone unfamiliar with it will likely be able to infer what it means from context.

    In short, using jargon for a general audience is not quite the same thing as nerdview. There's undoubtedly some overlap.

  28. Glazed eyes said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 12:46 am

    This goes straight into my Jargon Watch folio.

    I forget the reason but Homer Simpson at the barber's recently pleaded, 'I'll even buy product!' I'll be watching for a similar manifestation in a future episode.

  29. AntC said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 2:29 am

    "Do not throw stones at this notice." [Spike Milligan, IIRC.]

  30. Nadnerb said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 2:58 am


  31. Kim Witten said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 5:34 am

    I often like to substitute other nouns for the parts that confuse me. "donut" seems to work very well here. Meaning, please note the glazed donut when others aren't around. And by note, I mean eat.

    (One of my favorite examples of British signage I see quite often in train station bathrooms is "Automatic door: Push to operate" Note: donut does not work so well, ymmv.)

  32. Jukka Kohonen said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 6:06 am

    This comment is not blank, but contains twice, first without and then with quotes, the words "This comment is not blank, but contains twice, first without and then with quotes, the words".

  33. Cameron said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    Many commenters above seem to have seen the word "manifestation" and immediately brought up a context of séances and spiritualism. Am I the only one whose exposure to French leads me to associate that word with political demonstrations?

  34. Bobbie said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    As a fullly-sighted person who walked into an unmarked stationary glass panel, I can tell you it hurts! The sun was at such an angle that the panel did not seem to be present.
    A clearly worded warning on the window (for example CAUTION: GLASS! ) would be better than telling us about a manifestation on a glazed panel.

  35. Brett said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 11:17 am

    @Cameron: The connection of "manifestation" to encounter with spirits is not something I would ordinarily make, although it is familiar. I just read The Haunting of Hill House about a week ago, and I was struck by the frequent use of the term; I knew what it meant, but I was surprised to see it used so consistently (as a term of art, seemingly) by the ghost-hunters.

    On the other hand, I (who have essentially no knowledge of French) would never connect "manifestation" to political protests. I don't think I have ever seen the word used that way in English.

  36. Daniel Barkalow said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

    Aside from the terminology, this seems to be the sort of warning that is either unnecessary or impossible to follow. How exactly are you supposed to note the glazed panels without manifestations? If I were able to note glazed panels without manifestations, you wouldn't need manifestations (or the sign). Furthermore, it seems that there are normally no such panels in the building and the sign stays up, so you can't even read it as a warning about the existence of such panels.

    If The Jungle were set today, they'd have "Do not fall into vats" signs up.

  37. Mark F. said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

    That sign is ill-conceived on so many levels. There's the nerdview, first of all. There's the fact that they put up a sign saying to look out for the unmanifested glass instead of just improvising a manifestation on it (how hard can a strip of tape be?). And the phrasing is strange. I tend to interpret "Do X in the absence of Y" as a conditional: "If Y is absent, do X". Maybe the fact that it was such a dumb thing to have to say made it hard to come up with a natural way to say it.

  38. Ted said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

    @Jukka: You have been reading too much Moser lately.

  39. Rod Johnson said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    @Keith M Ellis: That's pretty funny. But

    No. Just stop there. For once in your life, please just let something be funny.

  40. The Ridger said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

    @Mark F. There's the fact that they put up a sign saying to look out for the unmanifested glass instead of just improvising a manifestation on it (how hard can a strip of tape be?). A lot harder to go all through a building filled with glass with no manifestations and put tape on every panel…

  41. marie-lucie said,

    March 11, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

    French manifestation in a political context (short form manif) = English demonstration. It corresponds to the verb manifester "to publicly or obviously express or make clear" (one's feelings, opinions, pain, joy, etc).

    French has the word démonstration but it is used only in the context of showing how to arrive at a predicted result, especially in the context of logic or math or of a lab experiment.

  42. Breffni said,

    March 12, 2013 @ 3:03 am

    This reminds me, a little obscurely, of an ancient Language Log post, THOSE WHO ARE NOT AUTHORIZED ARE NOT AUTHORIZED.

  43. Ray Girvan said,

    March 12, 2013 @ 6:58 am

    This seems to be along the same lines as "ambient sausage rolls" – a sign using industry technical jargon that's not in general vocabulary.

  44. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 12, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    If, as Victor Mair says, the sign relates to the whole building and not to a particular panel, it seems that 'panel' is also being used in an unusual way – either as a mass-noun or as an uninflected plural.

    It also seems to me that the nerdview here goes further than just the use of unexplained jargon. It is looking at the whole thing from the point of view of an insider. The insider can reasonably think 'We want people to note glazed panel(s) in the absence of manifestations'. They know in what cases manifestations are absent, and these are the cases in which they want people to take note. But the outsider has no idea in advance in what cases manifestations are absent, so for them, being told to take note in those cases makes no sense.

  45. Mark Reed said,

    March 12, 2013 @ 9:07 am

    For me, "manifestation" immediately calls to mind the spiritual meaning; manifesting is what ethereal entities do when they become more corporeal. Maybe that comes from reading too much fantastic fiction. But I agree, in 45 years of English, I've never heard it used in the French sense at all. If I read a rally or similar referred to as a "political manifestation", I would infer that the crowd had apparently formed spontaneously, in the manner of a flash mob.

  46. Rube said,

    March 12, 2013 @ 10:09 am

    FWIW, I showed the sign to a colleague whose daughter went to university in Quebec. He immediately thought of the "political demonstration" sense. According to him, that sense of "manifestation" is used by the anglophone Quebec media.

  47. Azimuth said,

    March 12, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    I was sure this post was going to be about the default for unsprinkled donuts in Chinatown.

  48. Irene said,

    March 13, 2013 @ 11:48 am

    What a lovely little haiku. I hope the sign means exactly what the poet intended.

    [(myl) The syllable (really mora) count is not right for a haiku — the middle line would need two more syllables. Maybe

    please note glazed panel
    in the sudden absence of


  49. Mark P said,

    March 14, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

    The devious handles clearly deviate from a single, clean, curved line from one attachment point to the other.

  50. zoetrope said,

    March 15, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    @Cameron Not so much from French but still with the Romance languages – as I live in Madrid, where there seem to be 'manifestaciones' of one sort or another nearly every day, I definitely think of protests when I see or hear the English word manifestations. In fact, I've sort of adopted the verb 'manifest' to mean 'protest', or at least to protest in Spain.

  51. Mick O said,

    March 15, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

    There is a possibility where this sign might be less silly than it first appears. It's a modern glass and steel building with lots of potential see-through hazards that the designers sought to mitigate through the use of glazed panels in some areas and manifestations in other areas. I imagine there were some accidents and injuries, and so a MEMO was circulated to all the building inhabitants to "Please note the manifestations to avoid injury." Whereupon a pedant, or a lawyer, quickly noted that since the memo only mentioned "manifestations" but not "glazed panels," the building owners were now open to massive legal action. Thus, this message was placed in a visible area as a rule of thumb to be followed not for one particular piece of glass, but for a variety of possibilities throughout the building.

  52. Signs of the Tribune | Ten minutes past deadline said,

    July 18, 2013 @ 9:00 am

    […] it baffled us so completely that we had to call in the awesome human computer that is Language Log to decipher it. And  last year – I swear – I saw a sign on the exit from the lift lobby that read: […]

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