I was parking my car this morning, and saw a sign attached to someone's front gate...

Polite Notice:

Do not park in front of these gates at any time.

...and I wondered about why the author decided to include the words "Polite Notice". Why not just say "please" instead?

To me, it gives the sign an odd feel. As if the author is reviewing his own sign, and saying it is polite, when clearly it is quite rude and abrupt.

This is a very common practice (in the UK, at least), but I find it very odd. What is the logic behind using this wording?

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    This always bugs me too. I don't know about others, but I in no way mistake it or even subliminally regard it as being more authorative due to 'polite' being similar to 'police'. – Anonymous Feb 21 '13 at 9:51

It's the similarity to Police Notice which people might regard more authoritatively.

It's also a generic message to any potential reader. In a very British way, Polite Notice is equivalent to:

To whom it may concern: I am about to ask a favour, but before I do, I want to make you aware that I do this without aggression, blame or reference to any other occasion. I would like to gently request that you heed the following words without feeling the need to take offence nor extract revenge by dragging your key along my car or setting fire to my house. Do not park in front of these gates at any time.

There is also an ironic humour going on in many cases such as a rude notice preceded by the header Polite Notice.

Note that nearer airports, it's more likely to be Pilot Notice.

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    Do you think it is used, simply because people might misread "polite" as "police"? – Urbycoz Feb 21 '13 at 9:44
  • I think that's where it started, yes. Police notices used to be a lot more common than perhaps they are now. You could make your own notice look very like a police notice with only one letter change. Would be interesting to gather stats on usage of Polite Notices vs age of the notice poster. My guess is older generation has highest prevalence. – Roger Attrill Feb 21 '13 at 9:48
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    "No Offence - but you're an idiot". – JonW Feb 21 '13 at 11:20
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    Definitely started with the intention of making people think it was a police notice. I remember it starting with signs that used same typography as police notices. – SPDoctor Aug 26 '15 at 12:45

Yes, indeed - and I can imagine that both the phrases "Polite Notice" and "Police Notice" emphasize the stated directive. Should it state "Police Notice", most people will more quickly expect the probability a consequence in case they decide to choose to ignore the request or prohibition (this can either be a fine or the possibility of their car being towed away).

A polite notice, or a notice prefixed with "Please" can of course be interpreted as an action that is in fact prohibited, but can be ignored at will. Also, one does not know who will enforce this directive.

  • But this doesn't answer the question of "Why?". Why choose this odd wording, rather than just making the wording polite? Are you saying that it is used to explicitly state that it is not a police notice? – Urbycoz Feb 21 '13 at 10:29
  • My best bet is that the directive in your example is not actually enforced by any law enforcement agency (police), and is purely a matter of an individual or group of individuals not wanting any cars to be parked at that particular spot. The choice of wording in this case is most interesting, as, already pointed out by Roger, it is very similar to "Police Notice" and it may in fact very well be intentional indeed. – Erik Feb 21 '13 at 10:56

I've never seen or heard of a 'Police Notice', so I'd always assumed that the author was trying to mitigate the potentially abrupt nature of the message.

Alternatively, they may think that the notice is one that encourages others to conform to the author's version of 'polite' (e.g. polite people don't park in front of gates etc.). Unlikely but possible.

See also http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/polite-notice.

  • But why not just say "please" instead? You'd never write it like this in a letter. Why do it on a sign? – Urbycoz Feb 21 '13 at 12:14

It could be that they are referring to a given rule, and for some reason aren't rewording it. Let's say that the rule is given in some formal document as:

"Do not park in front of the entrance gates at any time."

Then the origins of the "polite notice" makes a little more sense, even thought it could be worded better.

Another option is that the "polite notice" is in contrast to a legal or police notice, and they are trying to make it clear that it is not a legally enforceable notice. That would explain the "polite notice" part, but not the impolite wording used. That is either from my first suggestion, or simply a poor choice.

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