Next to the checkout at Sainsbury’s in Gower Street is a notice with the heading “Polite Customer Notice”.

Well, it’s a notice all right; and it’s certainly for customers; but why “polite”?

It occurs to me that the people who make these notices nowadays may be unaware that the practice of starting a notice with the words “POLITE NOTICE” in block capitals, was originally intended to make the hasty reader think it said “POLICE NOTICE” – since at one time there used to be genuine notices with such headings, although maybe not nowadays. Typically these were to be seen outside people’s houses telling drivers not to park there. The practice has been handed down, and its original purpose forgotten; nowadays people trot it out without thinking that, since one would not be likely to display an “IMPOLITE NOTICE”, the word is pretty well superfluous.

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