Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Secret Language of Cars

I have a fascination with symbols and cryptolects that manifests itself in derivative interests in Heraldry, Vexillology, Labanotation, Hobo Signs, and other related fields where graphic design and linguistics combine. I suppose the umbrella term Semiotics is probably best. I don't have any formal training - its just one of those things I like to notice in the world around me and think about. So, when I see a symbol conveyed, I want to know what it means, why its there, and how it was selected. For the longest time several years ago, I didn't know what this meant when I saw it on other people's cars:

Now I know that its the symbol of the Human Rights Campaign, which is "working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality." So, it doesn't mean the person driving the car is any of those things, but if your noticeably effeminate male colleague has such a sticker on his car, I'd call that confirmation. Ok, case solved. But then I started seeing this one:

No idea what it meant. Months ago, maybe more than a year now, somebody was talking about stickers on an internet forum I read and they said this one allegedly meant a preference for BDSM (if you don't know what that means, just let me say its best not to look it up at work), and that it was to help people in that subculture identify eachother. Yikes! So for months and months scenes like the following would occur: I'd be in a parking lot, and notice a middle-aged woman with her kids loading groceries into her car, and see the sticker. "Really!? Her?!" I'd think. Or I'd be driving, and some random old guy would pass me and I'd see the sticker - "WOW, that's just... weird!" Or maybe worse, some reasonably attractive young woman would have the sticker on her car and I'm left thinking - "Kinky!" It's all very funny in retrospect, but I really had nothing else to go on but one internet poster's suppositions.

So finally I started seeing variations on it - one was a bow shape like you see yellow ribbons, only with the black and blue, and it said "Heroes live forever" in it - that didn't seem to fit the former profile. In the course of this research, I found a few news stories about its impact and use, and they led me back to the wikipedia article on The Thin Blue Line. Go read it, I'll wait.


So, thank goodness all those people I was seeing were cops or family of cops, and not the other thing, or at least not advertising the other thing. It's pretty weird that a symbol that is so simple has loads of sites selling stickers that seem to require you to prove that you're law enforcement. Of course the police that were interviewed for news stories say it has no effect - what do you expect anyone to say? I was talking with my friend Rob about it last night and he thinks its totally corrupt - I think it's an acceptable level of nepotism. What do you think?

There are other secret car stickers - there's one I still haven't figured out or found a picture of on the internet. It's a green-ish square with what looks like a foxhunting cap and some kind of fox depiction. I don't know if I've ever seen it outside VA, and I couldn't find any reference to it in any of the Virginia fox-hunting pages I trawled. I could be totally wrong about what it depicts - I wish I had a picture but you'll just have to keep your eyes open for it.

I'm not talking about little three-letter black on white ovals that mock the country codes of Europe, and I don't even think the Ichthys and its Darwin/FSM/Cthulhu parodies count. But I'm sure there are some more.

What other secret signs have you seen on cars?


hemisphire said...

I'm partial to the diver down flag.

Dave Y said...

ooh, good one!

Anonymous said...

I often wonder whether people who buy used cars with stickers on them have any idea what they may or may not be advertising.

Unknown said...

Heh. A friend pointed me this way since i just spent some time dwelling on The same thing over on LJ (which i shamelessly mention because I've got two symbols that I'm currently trying to figure out, and welcome any help).

-Rob D.

Unknown said...

Damn stealthy last names! Heya Dave. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Dave -
Friend of Jeff's here, and apparently birthday wishes are in order. So, happy birthday!
I'm also procrastinating, which is why I perused enough of your recent postings to know that I could a) not fill in a single one of the Biblical name blanks, but b) possibly weigh in on the BDSM/cop sticker concept.
I believe that that sticker (black/blue/black lines) WITH a red heart in the upper left corner is the BDSM symbol. or one of them. And if you instead have a bear paw print in the same location, that's something else ("Bear or Lover of Bear")(Not as in Winnie-the-Pooh or Smokey). But maybe the bear paw print is on a different background. Either way, I'm not looking it up (can't procrastinate THAT much) but thought I'd be helpful, if I possibly could.
Jeff's Friend Who Has Heard Great Things About You

Anonymous said...

My sketchy-looking downstairs neighbor has acouple of decals that I wonder about. One is a paw print with the word "corrupt" under it. The other says "lucky 13" inside a spade symbol. Any idea what these mean?