Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Complete stop"

OK, this is well-worn territory and I don't have time to check facts or anything so this is surely a waste of bandwidth, but it just bugged me: This morning on NPR, as I happened to walk by the radio, I heard a woman's voice (no idea who it was and don't care enough to find out beyond searching to see that the term isn't up for anything from today) complaining about usage. Basically, the point I heard was:
Don't talk about 'complete stops'. What other kind is there?
Actually, as everyone who drives in the US must surely know, we have a vocabulary for incomplete stops. I tend to call them rolling stops, but plenty of people say California stop, and there are other names too, I'm sure. (Google these two and you're flooded with hits.) Despite the claim that rolling stop is an oxymoron, that's what happens when you modify nouns: They no longer mean what they did before. A near collision emphatically does not involve a collision, all-but collapse is not an actual collapse, a no show specifically does not involve showing, and so on.

We might complain about the practice of incomplete stopping (it's dangerous — a bad driving practice) and even that it's so common that we have a whole vocabulary for it. But that's different.

But more generally, is NPR going to contest the NYT for the worst language coverage on this side of the pond? (Sorry, guys, but the BBC has you both beat by a mile once you leave the U.S.) With the real experts they regularly carry, can't somebody get through to them about this?


Anonymous said...

Complete stops... near misses... veggie burgers... Mr. Verb talking about nouns... what is the world coming to?

Mr. Verb said...

Hey, I hadn't thought about that: if Mr. Verb talking about nouns might annoy mavens ...

hh said...

Glad you posted on this! I heard it this morning too, embedded in one of those 'don't you just hate it when...' kinds of comedy rants. I thought, man, I don't have time today to post about rolling stops! but somebody should! but now you've done it, hooray!

:) hh

jangari said...

To depart from the linguistics of it, I think coming to a complete stop is potentially more dangerous that just a rolling stop (which I assume means you slow right down, probably foot the clutch, drop a gear or two, have a look then go again).
Give way signs (I think they're called 'yield' in the US) are much safer, because the requisite for going through it is that it is safe enough to do so. The requisite for a stop sign is that you have stopped.
If you stop really quickly then go again, then you've satisfied the conditions of the sign, but it isn't guaranteed to be safe.
Am I making any sense?

Mr. Verb said...

So, hh, it wasn't just me that was bothered by this. That's a relief, in some sense!

Jangari, I'm with you on preferring yield/give way, but in the US, tons of people are ripping through stop signs as if they had no signage at all. Some places have specific bike laws about what 'stop' means -- 1 mph on the computer, etc. -- so that you don't have to put a foot on the ground.

Anonymous said...

Keeping with the semantics of a stop sign, I suppose my aunt and other NJ drivers who know how to shoot on the run while going through Parkway tolls would have a more liberal definition of a stop than even the proverbial Californian. My grandfather felt that if he stopped at a stop sign, he'd done his civic duty and could go whether or not he had the right of way.