Thursday, November 1, 2012

West Virginia Wants Us to "Return Again Soon"

I have driven through West Virginia several times a year for twenty years now.  Each time I do I have to deal with this sign:



Now, most normal people would never take any notice of a highway sign put up and maintained by the West Virginia Department of Highways, but I am not a normal person and we all know that.  I have a fascination with how words sound and fit together.  I take as much pride in a well-constructed and grammatically tight sentence as others might in a bowling trophy or a ribbon from the pie-eating contest won by that lard ass Davie Hogan.  Aside from the fact that this totally insincere sign is inviting back to West Virginia any person who drives by it—hey, Jeffrey Dahmer, come on back any time, we'd love to have you—its awkwardness gives me the same skin-crawling sensation that I would get from chewing on a Popsicle stick or running my fingernails over  a chalkboard.  

"RETURN AGAIN SOON." While not technically incorrect, it is awkward and redundant.  "Return Again" is the same as saying "Come Again Again."  The first rule of writing is to omit needless words.  In this case, the sign creator could have left it at "RETURN SOON" and conveyed more correctly a message of West Virginia hospitality.  It is my opinion that the sign should say "COME BACK SOON" but perhaps another state has trademarked that message and West Virginia had to find a workaround. 

I'm trying to give West Virginia a gracious excuse here because when I first noticed this sign it was 1993 and the governor of West Virginia was a fellow by the name of Gaston Caperton.  Caperton is a graduate of the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA, an institution from which I also graduated. Gov. Caperton, according to his Wikipedia entry, made education his priority and to his credit did much to raise the profile of public education in West Virginia.  Sadly, his efforts did not extend to the Department of Highways, its employees, or apparently to any Adult Education programs that may have been in existence during his tenure.  Caperton spent eight years in the Governor's mansion in Charleston and certainly drove past these signs hundreds of times on his forays out of state.  He never noticed?  Neither apparently have any of his four successors because the signs still are there, taunting me with their sloppiness every time I drive past.  

I also must point out that Caperton went on to become the president of the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT and ACT tests given to all aspiring college students in order to measure —among other things—proficiency in Math and English

"And you want to be my Latex salesman?"
West Virginia annually spends taxpayer money on advertising and public relations campaigns designed to elevate the perception that other Americans have of it.  Does it work? In January of this year the American Legislative Exchange Council released its 17th Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform.  In what can only be described as cruel irony, West Virginia was ranked 51st, finishing last and beaten in the state rankings by even the District of Columbia which, as we all know, is not a state.  

Why does West Virginia rank 51st out of 50 states? Because its highways signs are awkward and redundant, that's why. They scare away any would-be settlers and national score raisers who may be thinking that a move to the Mountaineer State is just the ticket until they see those signs.  

Those signs do for West Virginia what the backwoods fellers in "Deliverance" did for the whitewater rafting business in Georgia a few decades back.