Which Word Wednesday: Accept vs. Except

By August 6, 2014 language One Comment

For the past few summers, we’ve stayed in Boulder, Colorado, for the scenery, the running, the friends, the food, the coffee . . . I could go on and on!

Anyhow, Boulder has a huge biking population. Serious athletes buzz about in packs and casual riders bike for daily transportation. Biking is part of Boulder’s DNA, with dedicated bike lanes and plenty of signs posted to keep riders as safe as possible. While I’m there, I join right in, pedaling around on my beast of an old-school bike, with my laptop bag or purse tucked into my wire basket.

3594086_9094dfd6c3_zThis year, as I approached an intersection between two one-way streets, I noticed a sign that my brain couldn’t make sense of: No Left Turn – Bicycles Excepted. (I’ve included a similar traffic sign I found in an online search so you could see what I’m referring to.) I was perplexed by the sign’s phrasing, wondering if it was a language error. My understanding of the word excepted is in terms of excluding or prohibiting, turning the sign’s message to something like this: No left turn, bicycles prohibited. I wondered if the sign should have been one of these options instead:

  • No Left Turn – Except Bicycles (meaning, no one but bicyclists can turn left)
  • No Left Turn – Bicycles Accepted (meaning, bicycles allowed)

And this is how we got to today’s Which Word Wednesday between accept and except. Let’s look at the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

accept :: verb
consent to receive

preposition :: not including; other than

verb :: specify as not included in a category or group

It seems the signs are using except as a preposition to say that left turns are prohibited other than bicycles. Interesting. And also confusing, considering we rarely see excepted used in this way. Wouldn’t a more common phrasing help with clarity? Or is the message only confusing to people like me who spend too much time dissecting traffic signs? hmm.

What’s my WWW verdict? The sign may be correct, but I think the choice of phrasing could be better. For the sake of the word nerds.

What’s your verdict? Do traffic signs like this confuse you? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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