Choosing the Right Words

Choosing the right words for a caption is harder than it seems. You can’t have too many words or too few, and they’ve got to communicate the right things. They’ve got to sound natural to whatever your particular character would say. There are a lot of potential captions you could insert into the above image, but I chose the simplest one, and one that let the image stand by itself, rather than try to make a pun or some other joke on top of the initial idea. I’ve observed the same principle in everyday signage, and so I’d like to illustrate the point.

Here’s an example of using way too many words to make your point. When did “Employees Must Wash Hands Before Returning to Work” become insufficient? Which of you North Carolina lawyers is to blame for this? If you’re going to write at this level of detail, I’m going to be forced to read this sign in a whole new way, and not the way the signmakers want. Shouldn’t it be each employee’s “hand”?  What is an Approved Hand-Drying Device, and how do I know that there is one in this bathroom? Does the soap need to be approved also, or are we using some rogue brand of hand cleaner? I was surprised to see this sign in a Carolina fast food joint, because it looks like it came from a Massachusetts government building.

Here is an example of using too few words. This sign is pretty clear, but it really should say “HOLD YOUR CHILD’S HAND,” right? If I’m a parent I might choose my child having to contend with the collapsing escalator steps rather than having to fend off strangers trying to hold my child’s hand. Especially because this sign is from an escalator at Port Authority.

And sometimes you nail the caption, but the idea just doesn’t cut it. Because the terrifying set of problems that you unleash on yourself when you eat one of these 99 cent things speaks a lot louder than the problem of hunger that you “solve.”

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Filed under Cartoons, Found objects

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