Wood only

A link from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky:

This appeared on FailBlog, you will note, so someone thought the signs were some kind of failure. (Some commenters disputed this, with the childish invective characteristic of so many exchanges on the net.) There is certainly something odd, at first reading, about the signs: trees and branches are wood, aren’t they?

But they might make more sense if we knew what this collection point was for; what’s the point of collecting this suff? (Context, context, context!)

On the left side of the photo, you can glimpse some boards, so perhaps the intention was to collect lumber (planks, boards, etc.) — not just any kind of wood — presumably for re-use. If so, LUMBER ONLY would have been a better sign; it would exclude whole trees, logs, branches, tree roots, and shrubs, and also painted wood and wood fashioned into furniture, utensils, baseball bats, and the like.

But then it makes a difference where the photo was taken, since OED2 reports that the relevant sense of lumber is specifically North American:

N.Amer. Timber sawn into rough planks or otherwise roughly prepared for the market.

If the purpose was to collect woody material for composting, then you want things that can be chipped or shredded, which would exclude whole trees but include branches. And the signs should make that clear.

If the purpose was to collect fire-wood, then you want things that could be burned in a fireplace, so branches and small logs would be ok, and maybe some things fashioned from wood. Again, the signs should make the purpose clear.

In any case, more informative signs would have been a good thing.


2 Responses to “Wood only”

  1. *No/Deli* Says:

    …trees and branches are wood, aren’t they?

    In the same way that cows and pigs are meat!

    By the relative condition of the two signs, I suspect that ‘wood only’ went up first, and upon receiving (unwanted) piles of sticks, the confusing addendum was posted, for “clarification”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Nouns denoting a material or substance are often polysemous with nouns denoting things consisting of that material (as for paper and glass — note how these are treated at recycling centers). So with wood; the OED puts these senses together in a single subentry for wood:

      The substance of which the roots, trunks, and branches of trees or shrubs consist; trunks or other parts of trees collectively (whether growing or cut down ready for use).

      Meat works differently.

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