Chris Horvat - Polar Oceanographer
Ever wonder what the most-heard phrase in the world is? A good bet would be:
The moving walkway is ending. Please watch your step.
Which repeats every 15 seconds at at least two locations at (approximately) all of the 50,000 airports in the world (assuming there's a few more moving walks at, for example, LHR than in a small regional Tibetan airport). That gives us a quarter of a billion broadcasts per day, meaning it could probably compete with the Muslim call to prayer, "Mind the gap", or that stupid R.Fancourt roofing song for the most heard or repeated non-spoken phrase.
Here's a similar one:
The TSA would like to remind you that unattended baggage is prohibited in the terminal area. Any unattended baggage will be removed by the airport police.
Which got me thinking about what exactly this statement meant. One hears it over and over again, to the point where I'd bet most people can form some approximation of it when asked.
Here's the thing, though: there's a difference between the prohibition of "unattended baggage" and "baggage left unattended". Prohibition necessarily requires an actor to be prohibited from performing an action, in this case leaving your bags alone in an airport. The TSA's statement, however, is banning the unattended baggage itself, without reference to who is to be punished!
This is just a good example of the implicit way language can be used to signify meaning. On its grammatical and lexical construction, the TSA's statement is a bit funky because of the misuse of "prohibition". And this may be by construction, because unattended baggage, by its very nature, has no person to blame for its existence. All interesting things to think about. Just how intelligent is the TSA?
Still, this is the danger of speaking about explicit things (scientific results, for example) using a language which places a considerable weight on implicit meaning. Words mean things that are not immediately self-evident, but data and information is independent of context, which is one of a myriad ways of viewing the reflexive disdain scientists and journalists have for one another.
Oceanographer, Mathemagician, and Interested Party