You see the signs adorning quiet corners: STOP MEANS STOP. The declaration serves as an addendum, a gloss, on the larger sign on the same metal post sporting the familiar white on red octagon commanding drivers to halt.
This codicil strikes me as a suburban phenomenon, reflecting a hyperattentive concern for propriety and rectitude. It’s hard to imagine seeing these persnickety postscripts on the boulevards and avenues of a major city. The thousands of add-ons would cost too much. Besides, who would have time to read them? Move along, people. Nothing to see here.
The ubiquitous STOP is a verb, not a noun announcing the type of action required at the junction. STOP MEANS STOP presumably means drivers who are supposed to be stopping are merely pausing. Or not stopping at all. If we are going to parse propriety, let's go further. Perhaps the editorial sign commenting on STOP should instead say: “'Stop' means stop, not the simulation or approximation of the cessation of forward movement. Now please leave our perfect patch of Paradise.”
What does the law say? What is the required duration of the driver’s pause? It’s not really a matter of duration. The answer varies for each state, but typically it means a complete or full stop, meaning no forward momentum, the needle on the speedometer at 0. (Speedometers don’t have needles any more; call it Digital Zero.) It means, your car wheels can’t be moving. The popularly believed 3 seconds required for a stop seems more myth than reality. (“Full stop.” That’s how our British friends refer to the end punctuation we call a period. Try using that phrase in your next argument. See if it puts a full stop to the debate.)
The notion of a proper duration at a stop sign invites the question: Can you stop for too long, say, the duration of one lap around the rosary beads or malas reciting your mantra?
Can you be prosecuted for indulging in the full metaphysical fruits of your quotidian caesura?
And what about pedestrians? At the octagonal red and white sign, must pedestrians take a deep bow and exhale? It might be the one pause in your day that refreshes.
Buddhists talk of the value of stopping, the reward of pausing to gaze at the interconnectedness of all manner of things.
Is this what we are called upon to practice when we see STOP MEANS STOP?
The problem with STOP MEANS STOP is that it risks sending the opposite of its intended message. You would never post such a message unless the word "stop" were being routinely ignored. So, how does replicating the word, repeating it, strengthen its force? Does it not weaken the word "stop"? Does it mimic the situation of a parent remonstrating a child, perhaps loudly, as the child clearly knows the word carries no force if not enforced?
This invites comparisons with other reduplicative expressions, some of a more serious nature. “No means no” surely delivers an unequivocal expression regarding the lack of sexual consent. What about broader, societal applications of this syntactic formula? We can explore endless variations.
Peace means peace. War means war. Love means love. Hate means hate.
Stop this already means stop this already!