David Moseley

Stop means stop

2014-06-27 06:30

David Moseley

As an experienced annoyer of people, I’ve had my fair share of family members scream wildly, “David! Your problem is that you just don’t know when to stop.”

This was a favourite refrain of my mother when I still lived at home, invariably coming after I’d amused myself with a witty slice of backchat and then carried on harassing my frazzled mom until that one step too far.

My sweet wife Robyn has picked up the mantle, happily tolerating my incessant badgering, but only up to a certain point. Then, if I’m tickling or attempting to shove dirty socks onto her face too enthusiastically, elbows and knees lash out, along with a familiar cry of, “David! Your problem is that you just don’t know when to stop.”

I’m getting better, though, and in an effort to prolong my marriage (it’s too late for my relationship with my mom, she’s already moved to another country to get away from me) I’m forcing myself to stop. Which can’t be said for some other South Africans, particularly those on our roads.

Yesterday alone I witnessed three instances of motorists flying straight through clearly marked Stop streets. “South African motorists,” I said to myself in the tone of my beleaguered wife, “your problem is that you just don’t know when to stop!”

The frequency of this non-stopping got me thinking. It’s well known we’re an illiterate nation, barely able to tell our now-nows from our just-nows. So it’s no surprise traffic signs made-up of words confuse local drivers. The word ‘stop’ is quite confusing, too, and can be left open to interpretation by muddled motorists.

Perhaps a more thorough study of the word’s history will help us all to come to terms with its puzzling meaning.

Stop is, of course, the modern version of the Old English word "stop", itself derived from the Latin word "Stop". Ancient Romans actually assimilated the word from an ancienter Arabic version of the word, which in Arabic is "stop", meaning "to stop".

Some say that aliens originally came to earth thousands of months ago and left "stop" behind on poles and other inconvenient places, causing flustered motorists to blatantly ignore the peculiar symbol.

Archaeologists have since discovered in stone-age caves numerous crude drawings of the word stop in little speech bubbles above shocked stick people who have stepped unawares into the road, expecting mammoth traffic to come to a halt at the stick-figure pedestrian crossing. Academics have gone on record as saying that the meaning of this "stop" is probably "stop".

Over the years it seems something was lost in translation with regards to this ancient of ancient words. Where it once simply asked people to stop, it now presents for modern man myriad interpretations such as, "go without looking", "carry on", "optional coming to a halt zone", "why the fuck is that person walking in front of my car" and "don’t stop".

Quite when the original meaning was lost is unclear, but it’s believed to be around the moment that South African road users became utterly incompetent morons, some time on the day they were born.

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