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Embodiments of bilateral asymmetry and danger in hobo signs

Embodiments of bilateral asymmetry and danger in hobo signs Introduction Around the turn of the twentieth century, itinerant hoboes,1 mostly men and boys, traveling around the USA by rail were guided by a system of signs known as hobo signs. These signs made possible interpretations of myriad objects, such as campsites, roads, water, and towns, in terms of their value and usefulness to the hobo lifestyle. Setting aside, for the Semiotica 142­1/4 (2002), 211­223 0037­1998/02/0142 ­ 0211 # Walter de Gruyter 212 J. Wanderer moment, objects that present themselves with self-evident properties, such as dogs that did not merely growl and bark, but actually snapped and bit, and were obviously threatening, the question remains: what shaped hoboes' interpretations of objects without self-evident properties? Places or campsites they happened upon were unlikely to have been posted with literal `This is a safe place' signs, and they were unlikely to find water posted with `Not potable' signs. What hoboes did find was that objects of vital interest were marked with discursive indicators, conveyed in hobo signs. For example, paths, roads, or trails were not marked with words indicating they were `preferred directions' to travel or places to be `avoided.' Instead objects were marked with hobo signs that discursively differentiate http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Semiotica - Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique de Gruyter

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Publisher
de Gruyter
Copyright
Copyright © 2002 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG
ISSN
0037-1998
eISSN
1613-3692
DOI
10.1515/semi.2002.073
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Introduction Around the turn of the twentieth century, itinerant hoboes,1 mostly men and boys, traveling around the USA by rail were guided by a system of signs known as hobo signs. These signs made possible interpretations of myriad objects, such as campsites, roads, water, and towns, in terms of their value and usefulness to the hobo lifestyle. Setting aside, for the Semiotica 142­1/4 (2002), 211­223 0037­1998/02/0142 ­ 0211 # Walter de Gruyter 212 J. Wanderer moment, objects that present themselves with self-evident properties, such as dogs that did not merely growl and bark, but actually snapped and bit, and were obviously threatening, the question remains: what shaped hoboes' interpretations of objects without self-evident properties? Places or campsites they happened upon were unlikely to have been posted with literal `This is a safe place' signs, and they were unlikely to find water posted with `Not potable' signs. What hoboes did find was that objects of vital interest were marked with discursive indicators, conveyed in hobo signs. For example, paths, roads, or trails were not marked with words indicating they were `preferred directions' to travel or places to be `avoided.' Instead objects were marked with hobo signs that discursively differentiate

Journal

Semiotica - Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotiquede Gruyter

Published: Oct 9, 2002

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