Pictographs for dogs

A Mark Stivers cartoon from 4/20/19 (first encountered in the Funny Times for May 2021):


Dogs also can’t interpret pictographs, certainly not such abstract ones as the slash of prohibition, the NO symbol (seen here in a non-standard orientation and missing part of its conventional accompaniments). It’s doubtful, in fact, that they can recognize dog pictographs, highly stylized representations of a dog — and incredibly doubtful that they can recognize a pictograph of a dog taking a poop, and understand that a prohibition against dogs pooping applies to them. In fact, it’s beyond doubtful that even if they recognize the sign above as a prohibition against dogs pooping, they understand that the sign is locationally deictic, applying not just to the spot where the sign is planted, but to some contextually (and socioculturally) determined area around the sign — in this case, applying to the whole strip of lawn on this side of the fence (but not to any larger area).

On the prohibition sign. From Wikipedia:

The general prohibition sign, also known informally as the no symbol, ‘do not’ sign, circle-backslash symbol, nay, interdictory circle, prohibited symbol, don’t do it symbol, or universal no, is a red circle with a 45 degree diagonal line inside the circle from upper left to lower right. It is overlaid on a pictogram to warn that an activity is not permitted,

(#2) Prohibition sign superimposed on smoking-cigarette pictograph, to convey the abbreviated message “No smoking (here)”, that is “There will be no smoking (here)”, conveying  that smoking is prohibited / banned / not permitted (here)

or has accompanying text to describe what is prohibited.

(#3) Prohibition sign superimposed on a capital P, the P serving as a stand-in for a parked car pictograph (or the word PARKING), the combination standing for “No parking (here)” (and so conveying that parking is prohibited / banned / not permitted (here)), in combination with the explicit (but abbreviated) text NO PARKING

Comments on this passage:

— as is standard in discussions of pictographic signage, the terms sign and symbol are used interchangeably

— as is general in English usage, the terms pictograph and pictogram are used interchangeably; note the NOAD entry:

noun pictograph (also pictogram): a pictorial symbol for a word or phrase.

On the formative element –gram, see the passage from Quinion’s Affixes site below.

— as is common in discussions of pictographs, the NOAD entry treats them as standing for linguistic expressions (words or phrases), but surely they stand instead for semantic content, which could be expressed in linguistic expressions in many ways; note the Wikipedia entry’s careful wording “[the prohibition sign] is overlaid on a pictogram to warn that an activity is not permitted”

— the Wikipedia article treats the NO sign only as a prohibition on activity, while in fact it has it has two uses: one with the slash of prohibition (banning some activity), another with the slash of exclusion (barring some things from entry into a location and hence from presence there), as in signs barring dogs:

(#4) A NO DOGS sign, announcing that no dogs are admitted / given entry or allowed / permitted (here)

Or this one barring penguins:

(#5) A fanciful NO PENGUINS sign

— though the conventional NO sign has a backslash, there are occasional variants with a forward slash, like this NO PARKING sign:


— though the conventional NO sign has a red circle, there are occasional variants without it, as in Stivers’s pictograph in #1 (which also has a non-standard forward slash).

— though the NO sign is usually fused with a pictograph conveying what is prohibited or excluded, sometimes the NO sign conveys merely something like ‘This is a prohibition / an exclusion’ with the banned activity or things conveyed separately, as here:

(#7) (tipping here refers to tipping rubbish into a place

From Michael Quinion’s Affixes site. On the formative –gram / ‑gramme.

 Something written or recorded in a particular way. (Greek gramma, something written, from graphein, to write.)

A few examples came into English through French and retained the French spelling ‑gramme. Modern usage prefers ‑gram and this is now standard in scientific terminology and US English. The only common word in British English that retains the longer form is programme, and not even then in computing.

In many cases, a word in ‑graph (see ‑graphy) refers to an instrument that produces a written record described by ‑gram — a cardiogram is produced by a cardiograph, and a seismogram by a seismograph. A telegram is a message sent by telegraph. In other cases, they are different names for the same thing, as pictogram or pictograph, a pictorial symbol for a word or phrase. More rarely, the members of a pair have different senses: a hologram is a three-dimensional image formed using laser light but a holograph is something hand written by its author; a monogram is a motif formed by intertwined letters, while a monograph is a detailed written study on a single specialized topic.

2 Responses to “Pictographs for dogs”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    And then there’s photograph, which refers to the document, and has no -gram counterpart. Yes, I know Quinion said “in many cases”, thereby implying “not all cases”.

  2. RF Says:

    One thing I continually found amusing in France was the use of the red slash to indicate “end of” or “leaving.” I always imagined the signs to be saying “Absolutely no Toulouse allowed in here!” or “Whatever you do, *don’t* drive 50 kph! Anything but that!”

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