Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Grammar of Seatbelt Safety

Of all people, Drew Mackie the Typo King probably has the least room to criticize others for stringing their words together in strange or unpleasant ways. But this fact has never stopped me before, I so I shall continue on. (Take that, conspicuously dark-colored kettle!) If you live in the United States and ride in wheeled vehicles, you have likely seen a certain safety slogan that bothers me — and probably me alone.

Yep, it’s “Click It or Ticket.” And, at least on the verbal level, it sucks, regardless of how many life-saving seatbelt burns it may be responsible for. I had no objections to “Click It or Ticket” whenever I first encountered it, but then a friend pointed out how it’s grammatically awkward and now I can’t help but to remember this every time I see the slogan on roadside signs or electronic highway billboards during non-Amber Alert time periods. It bothers me a little more each time, and one day, I’m sure, it will sufficiently distract me from driving safety that I’ll cause an accident

My problem has to do with the two choices given: “Click It” and “Ticket.” The first could be a grammatically complete sentence, if it wanted to be, with the understood subject of you — as in “Hey, you! Dumbass!” — and then the imperative verb click and even the direct object it. The second is just the word ticket, sitting by itself all awkwardly, without a verb to complete the thought. It’s like an unbalanced equation, this offering of two grammatically unequal choices. Or it’s like twins, with “Click It” being the one that got all the good womb food and left “Ticket” malformed and sickly.

In general, “Click It or Ticket” seems like it wants to mimic a more successful rhyming construction such as “Be There or Be Square,” which offers two grammatically equal choices, both of which are imperatives with the understood you. With “Click It or Ticket,” I can mentally supply the you for the first part, but I feel like it’s asking too much to insert the missing words in the second part until it makes sense. “[You] Click It or [Get a] Ticket”? “[You] Click It or [You Will Risk Receiving a] Ticket”? “[You] Click It or [an Officer Will Pull You Over and Issue You a] Ticket”? Nope. Asking too much, all of these. I will say, at least, that the American slogan reminding motorists about basic safety is better than its British equivalent, “Clunk Click Every Trip.” Because slant rhymes kill.

My suggestions: “Get Strapped to the Seat or Smeared Across the Street,” “Fasten Your Belt or Death Is Dealt,” and “Make the Buckle Click or You’re an Inbred Hick.”

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