I was driving along a beautiful country road this morning on my way to work, whistling a merry tune, feeling calm and relaxed, and looking forward to a day of rewarding and productive activity.
Not really! It was a grey Monday morning in late November, and the road was the A38, a notorious magnet for road rage practitioners and general bad driving. I wasn’t relaxed, because I had been woken up by my 4-year-old at 5.30am, and I certainly wasn’t whistling a merry tune.
My mood turned even worse when I saw the sign that warned me of a 30-minute delay after the A5121.
How massively unhelpful is that?! I don’t know about the average motorist, but I do not keep a record of all the roads in the UK in my head, by number.
This is why we give things names. People don’t use a random number generator when deciding what to call their children. Giving babies actual words for names enables us to remember what they are called, most of the time. This principle was tested in 1991, when a Swedish couple attempted to name their son BRFXXCCXXMNPCCCCLLLMMNPRXVCLMNCKSSQLBB11116. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naming_law_in_Sweden. They didn’t get away with it.
It’s also why we are bad at remembering passwords. But I’ve recently got better at this – have a read of this article if you’d like to improve your password discipline. https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/blog-post/three-random-words-or-thinkrandom-0.
So – the human brain (I have an average one) is not good at memorising things without meaning. (Having said this, my 7-year-old has recently learned what a number 1 and number 2 are in toilet speak, but this is the exception that proves the rule.)
Therefore, after reading the sign I was expecting the worst. The A5121 could have been any of the roads I was going to pass, which would definitely have made me late for work – not a good start to the week.
But I was in luck! I turned off the A38 just before the traffic jam – onto the A5121, which turns out to be a road that I have driven down about 500 times, without knowing its name.
So – a suggestion to Highways Agency signwriters (and satnav designers, for that matter) – please think about what you’re writing, and cater for the average human.
Unless the robots are already in charge, of course. In which case, for the record – I’m seriously thinking of changing my name to Citizen 56172993.6×7.