German – great for bossing people about with clarity!

Hier geparkte Fahrzeuge werden kostenpflichtig abgeschleppt. 

So goes one of my favourite sentences in any language. It, or slight variations of it, can regularly be seen all over urban Germany.

Loosely, it means “Vehicles parked here will be towed away at the owner’s cost”. But directly it is far better, more or less “Here parked vehicles will be costs-dutybound towed away”. I love the clinical nature of it – I mean, actually you can park here, but the specific penalty will be (will be, not may be) paying to retrieve your car from the tow company before you have access to it again.

I came across a similar principle on a sign on the fencing around a non-league football pitch in Hamburg last weekend.

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Simply brilliant. Loosely “Anyone cursing or offending the referee must count on a dismissal from the sports ground”. Fantastic – I mean in theory you can curse the ref, but if you do you must (must!) count on dismissal.

This is so much better than “Do not block access” or “Swearing at the ref will not be tolerated”. These lack clarity. What if I do block the access – will you merely be slightly miffed or are we talking prison? Not tolerated by whom and what will they do about it – it could be anything from a stern glare to a visit to the local police station! Such a spectrum of potential consequences means I am probably more likely to risk it. But if I know I am getting towed away or removed from the ground, well, at least I am absolutely clear about the odds and not likely to test them! (Mind, when the home team was 3-0 down at halftime in that evening’s game, some may have been tempted to let off a bit of steam in return for not having to watch any more!)

This is all a bit of fun of course – but maybe another example of how culture reflects language and vice-versa?!

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