Traffic signals

How would you like to drive through a town where each street had its own set of traffic signals? All of the stop signs would say “STOP” in big letters, but sometimes the letters would be white on a red background, and at other times they’d be yellow on a blue background. Or black on an orange background. Some of the signs would be octagons, but others would be circles, triangles or squares.

It probably wouldn’t take long before you got in an accident, or at least got a traffic ticket. What are you going to tell the cop? That you didn’t know what the letters S-T-O-P meant?

And it’s not just the stop signs. All the signs telling you to yield, merge or detour would come in the same kind of variety. The traffic lights would come in different colors too.

Before long, drivers would be screaming for some consistency.

In fact, that’s very close to how it played out in real life. As explained over on Mental Floss, early traffic signs were a weird mix of styles, and they weren’t even put up by governments. Auto clubs took matters into their own hands. It took decades to get governments to agree on a single system.

Following a single system also is the idea behind using standard grammar and punctuation when you write. You may be in love with your own quirky style, and readers who spend enough time with probably will figure out what you are trying to say. But you don’t want them to have to figure it out. You want them to know at a glance whether a sentence is a question or a statement. You want them to know which person is doing which thing in a sentence. You want them to recognize that names are names and not random words dropped into the middle of a paragraph.

If you want to display your quirky individualism, do it through your quirky, individual ideas.


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