Every Sign is There for a Purpose

The hand-written addendum to this sign in a men’s room at the San Jose airport reminded me of a routine by a comedian who said that many signs might seem obvious, but they exist because once upon a time someone did whatever stupid thing the sign is warning against. If he was right, apparently there are one or more people who make a habit out of drinking out of airport urinals or toilets. Here’s an open thread to contemplate that.

(It’s hard to read but it says “Do not drink from toilet or urinal”)

89 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    I hope there is never a need to conserve toilet paper.

  2. 2
    the Conster says:

    I wish Obama would demand that people not stick their tongues into light sockets, throw themselves into wood chippers, or mix ammonia and bleach.

  3. 3
    Davis X. Machina says:

    I used to frequent a bar that had a sign:

    “Don’t throw butts in the urinals, and we won’t walk over to your table and piss in your ashtray. Deal?

  4. 4
    Walker says:

    The meme you are looking for is oddly specific.

  5. 5
    Arclite says:

    There was a sign in the airport at Ho Chi Minh City that said “Mind the slope.”

  6. 6
    phein39 says:

    I work at a research laboratory. We have around 400 employees, with a seasonal grad student work force of around 200.

    There is a sign taped to the inside doors of the men’s room stalls in Bldg 3 (not in any other building) that reads:

    Please do not use paper towels in toilet. Paper towels will cause an overflow of the toilet. Thank you.

    What am I missing in life that I can’t figure out why someone would use paper towels (which they would have to bring from the kitchenette into the men’s room) in the toilet?

  7. 7
    Roger Moore says:

    I suspect this sign is more of a brag about what they’re doing to protect the environment, though if they really cared about the environment they’d be using waterless urinals instead. And some signs are put there because somebody has enough imagination to think of potential hazards before they happen. Most signs really are a response to human stupidity, though. It reminds me of a comment I read here that said safety rules are written in blood, which is the shortest, snappiest way of saying the same thing.

  8. 8
    Ruckus says:

    Someone somewhere has done every stupid thing you can think of. Usually proceeded by one of two phrases –
    Hold my beer.
    (Things seldom seem so idiotic with beer)
    Watch this.
    (Trying to impress girls or your friends usually ends up giving them a good laugh. At your expense.)

  9. 9
    Roger Moore says:


    What am I missing in life that I can’t figure out why someone would use paper towels (which they would have to bring from the kitchenette into the men’s room) in the toilet?

    You don’t have (and never have had) paper towels for people to dry their hands? I can easily imagine them winding up in the toilet if:

    1) The trash was too full to put them in
    2) Somebody noticed they were out of toilet paper and thought paper towels were preferable to not wiping
    3) Some fell into a toilet accidentally and somebody thought it would be more hygienic to flush them than fish them out.

  10. 10
    NotMax says:

    An oldie but a goodie:

    “Plastic lemon. Do not slice.”

    The bright green screw cap apparently was not enough of a clue.

  11. 11
    tybee says:


    that should be not an “or” but an “and/or”

  12. 12
    Roger Moore says:


    Usually proceeded by one of two phrases

    Sometimes both. I would guess that there’s a third one:

    Nobody else was clever enough to think of this.
    (Lots of apparently good ideas have hidden flaws.)

  13. 13
    lamh36 says:

    Booman asked
    “How Do You Feel About Al Sharpton”

    my answer:

    Simple: White folk “hate” Sharpton, but Rev Al Sharpton is STILL a big deal in the African American community.

    Before we had a Black President, Al Sharpton’s NAN (other groups) were bringing AA issues into the open.

    You may have hated to see him, but by his mere presence he was able to get a situation involving Black folk on the front page.

    Ya’ll may disregard him as a race hustler, but I’d bet you read the article his name was featured in and even as you were saying “look at that hustler Sharpton”, you also read about the situation Rev Al “latched” on to.

    After this Black President is gone, Al Sharpton and the rest of the Black voices we now see on TV will probably leave the network. Not en masse, but slowly so as NOT to seem like they are anti-diversity now that Obama’s terms are over.

    And who will Al Sharpton’s NAN will still be doing their thing and still be able to get national coverage of a story that would have stayed local.

    It’s better to have the story in the news, so that more people can possibly be aware of them.

  14. 14
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    once upon a time someone did whatever stupid thing the sign is warning against

    And that person is now active in the Tea Party.

  15. 15
    Mike J says:

    @Davis X. Machina: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are soggy and hard to light.

  16. 16
    NotMax says:

    Also, not too long ago saw a see-through bag of peanuts in the shell on which was printed in a small colored square, under the giant all caps lettering saying PEANUTS, this:

    “Warning. Product May Contain Peanuts.”

  17. 17
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @lamh36: I feel a lot better about Al Sharpton now that I did when he was embroiled in the Tawana Brawley case, which was, let us be perfectly honest about it, a fiasco.

  18. 18
    Tommy Dee says:

    On the Indiana Turnpike, just outside Chicago, used to be a small sign that read, ‘Transportation of Radioactive Materials Prohibited.’ Wondered for years what secret accident had caused them to put up that notice.

  19. 19
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Ruckus: The REALLY good ones are preceded by both phrases, as in “Hold my beer and watch this!”

  20. 20
    lamh36 says:


    Along the same lines of what I said about on-screen diversty no “longer being needed”.

    I freely admit that I only found the liberal blogosphere after Obama candidacy and election.

    What I was wondering was before President Obama historic candidacy and presidency, how much did the the blogs I frequently read now (and some that I began to read after Obama’s victory) actually focus on minority issues and/or tried to “diversify” their blog posters and such.

    I ask, cause I wonder once Obama leaves office, would som of the blogs I love to read no longer “intersted” in these subjects or can I expect a tapering off of posts about it?

  21. 21
    Ruckus says:

    Hold my beer and watch this.

    To long for stupid and as the concept of either is the same there is no need to combine them.
    Although I’m sure that someone somewhere had to tell a friend that to keep them from drinking the beer instead of watching.

  22. 22
    EriktheRed says:

    apparently there are one or more people who make a habit out of drinking out of airport urinals or toilets


    My stomach just turned a little reading this.

  23. 23

    Kinda random, but I love vonnegut’s “disclaimer” in Timequake: All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.

  24. 24
    Roger Moore says:

    They’re probably legally required to put that on there as an allergy warning, even though it ought to be blindingly obviously I’m more interested because the warning implies that the product may not contain peanuts, or they would have said “contains” instead of “may contain”. What’s going on with the ones that don’t contain peanuts?

  25. 25
    Karla says:

    This sort of thing is why syllabi get longer every year.

  26. 26
    Dog On Porch says:

    Mock if you must (“mock, mock”) that sign serves a higher purpose. To the already informed, it is a reminder that water is the most precious resource of all. To the uniformed, it’s a gateway message to a cleaner planet.

    Think of it as a simple-simon, inexpensive continuation of Lady Bird Johnson’s environmental activism (i.e. the ancient “don’t be a litterbug” days of yore).

  27. 27

    @Karla: in grad school I once had a syllabus that was three pages of disclaimers, a link to the online version of the textbook, and a schedule that said “TBD”.

  28. 28
    Ruckus says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    I wonder. Seeing as how the teatards seem to be scared of just about everything, most of which wouldn’t get a ten second concept meeting with the staff of Jackass, I wonder if they weren’t the people standing on the periphery pissing their pants that someone might hand them that beer. Or they could be the people a friend described as so uptight that they couldn’t have sex but could make love, but only with all the lights out, wearing flannel pjs and two condoms.

    ETA Forgot that the bedroom door must also be locked.

  29. 29
    phein39 says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Three counters:

    We have a contractor who stuffs rolls of toilet paper into the stalls like they were paid to, which they are.

    We have the most advanced “sustainable” hand-drying systems available to modern man (that is in fact our job, to figure out these things).

    You have to bring these in from down the hall, where the paper towel dispenser is. Not something you can do mid-bowel movement.

  30. 30
    NotMax says:

    @Roger Moore

    My thought, too. The exact wording is probably prescribed, but then again we’ve all occasionally come across a peanut with an empty pod.

    Used to be (may still be) a drinking establishment in Reading, PA called The Peanut Bar, wherein every table had a basket of free peanuts in the shell and the customers were expected and encouraged to toss the shells onto the floor.

    Wonder if any special ventilation requirements might since have been imposed to keep the shell dust from migrating beyond the doorway.

  31. 31
    lamh36 says:

    @AP 5h
    Since becoming president, Obama has spent less time away from the White House than his predecessors: http://apne.ws/1lm2HKi

  32. 32
    GxB says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    And that person is now active in the Tea Party.

    So now we know… the rest of the story…

  33. 33
    Jinchi says:

    My guess is that the person who added the handwritten portion is the same guy who writes “Wash Me” on every dust covered car in California. We’re trying to conserve water, because we’re running pretty low on it. We don’t want to waste drinking water on things like washing cars, watering plants and flushing toilets. So we use recycled water, instead. The point of the sign above is to let people know that it’s okay to flush the toilet, not to warn them off drinking from it.

  34. 34
    WereBear says:

    @Roger Moore: It reminds me of a comment I read here that said safety rules are written in blood, which is the shortest, snappiest way of saying the same thing.

    Might have been me… I’ve been known to say that.

    My favorite such warning was “Don’t use hair dryer in the shower.”

  35. 35
    Baud says:


    Clearly, Obama’s problem is that spends too much time in the White House. He’s lost touch with regular people!

  36. 36
    tybee says:


    some of us have to be told not to drink what was handed to us whilest we watch.

    particularly if the observed didn’t end up capable of finishing said barley pop.

  37. 37
    Jay C says:


    And because writing “No, Asshole: There’s a Drought!!” is to long a rejoinder…..

  38. 38
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Baud: You know, that’s precisely the sort of thing the vermin of the Village would come up with. I mean, Cokie Roberts considering a vacation in Hawaii to be “exotic”. I suppose she approves of him hanging out on The Vineyard, though…

  39. 39
    lamh36 says:

    UMMM! Yeah, the Westboro Church folk, don’t wanna be doing this, they gonna get they asses kicked!


  40. 40
    divF says:

    This place has a sign hangin’ over the urinal that says, “Don’t eat the big white mint”.

    Wade Garrett (Sam Elliot), Road House

  41. 41
    Newdealfarmgrrrlll says:

    @Ruckus: several years ago I read a fascinating book, “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon,” co-written by IIRC a park ranger & a local doc, because so many tourists had asked how many people had died there. They sorted by causes of death and yep, one of the largest categories was caused by being young, male, and likely to say “hey watch this” etc.

  42. 42
    NotMax says:


    Plus it’s so taxing to decide on just the right wine to go along with a urinal cake.

  43. 43
    Dog On Porch says:

    ..and in conclusion, sure, there’s always one poor SOB that doesn’t get the word. But we owe it to those sad souls to try as best we can to explain.

  44. 44
    srv says:

    @Baud: All he does is golf, with everyone but Congress.

  45. 45
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @Newdealfarmgrrrlll: We bought that book when we were at the Canyon and I had somewhat the same reaction. Most deaths were caused by either testosterone or photography.

  46. 46
    WereBear says:

    Another great one:

    “Do not look into laser with remaining eye.” — On a laser pointer.

    There’s many, of course.

  47. 47
    trollhattan says:

    If it’s like where I work, the toilet paper could double for printer paper, or fine writing paper, while the seat covers seem fashioned from butterfly wings, so delicate are they. Folks probably try paper towels out of desperation.

  48. 48
    Ruckus says:

    The wine depends on it’s flavoring. I’m not going to guess how one determines that.

  49. 49
    WereBear says:

    “Caution: Remove infant before folding for storage.” — On a portable stroller.

  50. 50

    @WereBear: saw that in… I think NOAA in Boulder? On an industrial laser.

  51. 51
    muddy says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: She probably thinks it’s uppity.

  52. 52
    WereBear says:

    “May be harmful if swallowed.” — On a shipment of hammers.

  53. 53
    trollhattan says:

    Shit, we all knew that. But he has the temerity to PLAY GOLF and GO TO THAT FOREIGN COUNTRY, HAWAII! How many days did the Brush-Cutter-in-Chief take, again?

    “Now watch this drive.”

  54. 54

    Oh, and there’s the airplane safety booklets that say to ask a flight attendant for help if you can’t read them.

  55. 55
  56. 56
    WereBear says:

    “Warning! This is not underwear! Do not attempt to put in pants.” — On the packaging for a wristwatch.

  57. 57
    trollhattan says:

    Still my favorite sign.

  58. 58
    WereBear says:

    “Fits one head.” — On a hotel-provided shower cap box.

    I have actually seen, and giggled, over this one.

  59. 59
    terry chay says:

    The irony here is that the recycled water is chemically clean enough to drink, but California Law (and American fee fees) prevent it from being used as such.

  60. 60
    trollhattan says:

    @terry chay:
    Give it one more year.

  61. 61
    phein39 says:


    Now, that could be it. I’ve never been a toilet-seat-cover afficionado myself, but we have tons of Korean and Chinese engineering grad students and post-docs.

  62. 62
    WereBear says:

    @trollhattan: Yes, that’s a great one.

  63. 63
    Roger Moore says:


    My favorite such warning was “Don’t use hair dryer in the shower.”

    A shower might be a dangerous place to use electrical devices even if the water is turned off, since it’s likely to be wet and well grounded. I’m more of a fan of the “do not attempt to iron clothes when you are wearing them”.

  64. 64
    lamh36 says:

    SMDH. WTF is going on with cops in Missouri…calling the Ferguson protestors “rabid dogs”…really


  65. 65
    lamh36 says:

    Read this and thought, um wait…what?

    @Variety 5m
    ‘Dating Naked’ Contestant Sues After VH1 Showed Her Naked http://on.variety.com/1q3uUUP

  66. 66
    Roger Moore says:

    That one actually makes some sense when you read it. The show was supposed to blur her breasts and genitals before broadcast. They supposedly missed her crotch in one scene, and naturally people noticed. She’s understandably angry that stuff that was supposed to be blurred is now being posted on the internet.

  67. 67
    chopper says:

    our rolling garbage bins have instructions on them.

    step 1: tilt bin
    step 2: push bin
    step 3: stop

    seriously, i don’t understand how you can’t figure out how to roll a garbage bin and still breathe on your own.

  68. 68
    lamh36 says:

    @Roger Moore: yeah, the headline is def misleading.

  69. 69
    cckids says:


    They sorted by causes of death and yep, one of the largest categories was caused by being young, male, and likely to say “hey watch this” etc.

    Also, a leading cause of death there if you are male & under 20 is getting up at night & deciding to pee off the edge of the canyon. And falling in . (from the same book)

    The things you learn.

  70. 70
    TooManyJens says:

    We have to have signs in the women’s restroom at work telling people that if they get pee on the seat, they should clean it up. At least the person/people responsible for those signs needing to be there either got the hint or graduated, but god damn.

  71. 71
  72. 72
    Ruckus says:

    That had to be the nasty job of all time. OK working in a coal mine. Not sure it I’d have rather been point on patrol than burn shit.

  73. 73
    Newdealfarmgrrrlll says:

    @cckids: the big surprise to me was “airplane crash.” Before I read that book I was unaware of the two commercial planes that collided over the Grand Canyon in 1956. Apparently planes used to detour over the canyon so passengers could gawk … leading to the mid-air collision and a rule about no more flights of that sort over the canyon.

  74. 74
    raven says:

    @Ruckus: Not just burn but stir. If you just poured the gas/diesel mix on it and lit it a crust formed on the top so you had to stir it. My grandfather and his father (who was killed in the wheelhouse of the mine) were coal miners in Southern Illinois.

  75. 75
    raven says:

    @Newdealfarmgrrrlll: And then there was the plane crash at Los Gatos Canyon.

  76. 76
    raven says:

    I took one pain pill at six, doesn’t seem too bad but we’ll see.

  77. 77
    KS in MA says:


    Sharpton is right almost all the time, seems to me. If he does get eased (or pushed) out of TV after Obama leaves office, I’d love to see him run for office.

  78. 78
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @raven: Heal quick, and keep that surgical site outta da sun. As in zinc oxide during daylight hours outside when the bandage is off. For a long time, or it will scar. Don’t ask how I know. Nice of the doc to mention it, if she actually had.

  79. 79
    Fort Geek says:

    Two of my favorites aren’t warning signs, but signatures required on gas pumps and fire extinguishers in Florida.

    For a decade, Charles Bronson‘s signature was on every gas pump inspection sticker, certifying that the fuel quantity dial was accurate.

    And then there’s Robert Vaughn, who inspected the fire extinguishers in Pensacola.

    That’s my brush with fame.

  80. 80
    raven says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q): They was tellin me that, with my mug at 65 I’m not all that worried about scarring but I’ll try to take care of it. The first game is at 6 next Saturday and my seats will be in the shade for that one.

  81. 81
    PurpleGirl says:

    David Gerrold was challenged to get a bucket of water dumped on him. Instead of water — cause you know there is a drought in California — he had a bucket of tribbles dumped on him. See the YouTube.


  82. 82
    Pee Cee says:

    Bought a toilet for the downstairs bathroom recently. On the box with various other cautions and warnings was:


    … with the exclamation point. I’m not exactly sure what that was so important, but … okay.

  83. 83
    Jay C says:


    Not surprising: the Grand Canyon Air Crash of 1956 claimed 128 lives. In one go. That’s a LOT of “hey look at me!“-type accidents.

    I went on a raft trip through the Canyon in 1976: part-way down, they mentioned that it was (more-or-less) the location of the 1956 collision: you could still see pieces of aluminum on the hillside reflecting the afternoon sun.

  84. 84
    LongHairedWeirdo says:

    I hate to ruin a good myth, but no, the warnings are not because someone did them.

    The rules of liability are, if your product causes a problem, you’re liable for ordinary damages. (Product liability is complicated so let’s ignore what’s “ordinary damages”.)

    But if you become aware of a problem, and fail to take *any* action about it, you are now liable for punitive damages.

    Okay: when do you become aware of a problem? Darn good question. There was a time where there was a thing called a “tort” where an everyday citizen could sue a company and find out that they knew their pool drain could injure a young child. Then, there’d be this thing called “discovery” where the noble company had to hand over documents to allow the plaintiff to determine if they knew about this danger. Then, once the lawyer sees that, wow, they knew about it, knew the could fix it, and just chose not to, said pool company will make said lawyer a *very* wealthy man.

    Thank heavens, nowadays, when you buy a pool, you’ll have to sign an agreement wherein you lose your right to sue, and all problems will be settled by binding arbitration, so that the pool company’s chosen arbitrator can say “well, hoocoodanode?” and award damages that won’t cost it business with the pool company in the future. THANK GOD FOR FREEDOM!

    Oh. Heh. Where was I?

    Anyway: If it could be proven in court that you knew about the danger, and failed to take action, NOW you’re liable for punitive damages. And the jury might go to town on you to set an example.

    Well, if you put a warning label in place, you haven’t done “nothing”. You’ve taken action. And for stupid stuff, that you put a warning label in place will be enough for the jury. So, you know those screens that you put in your windshield to keep your car from getting hot when parking on a sunny day? Sure – maybe someone drove their car with one in place. *OR* maybe there was a board meeting and the minutes included “I dunno – what if some bozo decides to move his car while it’s in place?” – and at this point, the lawyers would say “discovery will find this, we should print a warning label, because you schmucks can’t get a binding arbitration agreement with all the customers of all the stores where you sell stuff.”

  85. 85
    Mike G says:

    In the 80s I remember a scandal where a household cleaner was lemon-scented, and some moron nearly died after using it to flavor their ice cream. The maker then had to put “DO NOT EAT” in big letters. Probably the source of the Saturday Night Live punchline, “It’s a dessert topping — and a floor wax!”

  86. 86
    Older says:

    @chopper: I have on my bulletin board the card on which a sink stopper was shrink-wrapped, which has complete instructions for use. Essentially, “stick stopper in drain hole.” With a diagram.

  87. 87
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @WereBear: The laser at a foundry I worked at had a sign, “Do not interrupt laser with remaining fingers”. It was used to cut steel plate 4 cm thick. The text was engraved into a piece of scrap steel plate using the laser.

  88. 88
    BruceJ says:

    @NotMax:A bottle of lemon scented dishwashing soap I have has a warning ‘Do not drink. This is not food’.

  89. 89
    BruceJ says:

    @Robert Sneddon: That’s similar to the sign I’ve seen in virtually every optics lab I’ve ever been in: “Do not look into laser with remaining eye.”

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