Just when I get to thinking there’s no use for a Public Linguist in the Big Apple, something like the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s decision to, ever so subtly, change the language on its Admission sign comes along and proves me wrong again.
The Admission sign as it reads now.
Staring March 1st – the language on the Metropolitan Museum’s Admission signs, kiosks and website will strive for “clarity” – to clear up confusion about how much it costs to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
If you’ve visited the Metropolitan Museum and cast a skeptical eye on the Admission sign or clicked onto the Admission explanation on its website; or if you’ve ever warned your out of town visitors to “give whatever you like – a dollar is fine.” you’ll probably have an opinion on this.
I’m not going to the argument about what role public financial support of the Met should play. Linguists are not about that. As Chomsky says – It’s all about the DEEP STRUCTURE.
For quite some time New Yorkers and tourists have been confused and angered by the Met’s Admission signs. In fact, in 2012 two members of the Museum actually sued the museum, arguing that the signs mislead the public into thinking that its admission fees are mandatory. Pay to play.
Some estimate that 85% of visitors to the Museum misunderstand the Admission Fee policy.
Call in the linguist!
“suggested” + “recommended” are almost synonymous and from a comprehension perspective they are NOT easy to read words.
In fact there is no difference in the readability or understandability of the words “recommended” and “suggested”.
Not to sound to linguisticky – but according to the Flesch-Kinkaid, a popular readability scale, a sentence like “This is a recommended fee/price” is roughly a 10-12 grade reading level vocabulary work. Ditto for “suggested”.
Over half the population reads at 8th grade level or lower.
Many potential visitors are immigrants or tourists who may not be fluent in English.
To a highly tuned American English-speaking ear “recommend” implies that the person doing the recommending has some knowledge, authority to proscribe. There is a rule to follow.
Whereas “suggest” is, well a bit more friendly. Sort of like, “Hea, I have a good idea ….”
And to complicate matters for the reader both words (recommended/suggested) are passive verbs. Verbs in their passive are dry hard to comprehend. They’re harder to understand than their active partners –“We recommend….or “We suggest…”
Also with passives there is no specific person doing the acting. Its objective voice carries more authority.
What to do? What to do?
Co-opt the current political discourse! Here are 3 adjustments to the signage.
The Bernie Sanders
The Donald Trump
The Hilary Clinton