Dec 31, 2011

11AM, 12AM, 12:01AM

I find this parking sign slightly odd. It tells me that I can’t park here starting at 12:01AM because of street cleaning. 12:01, they say, not 12:00. Why be that precise? Why not just say 12AM and save some paint? Why say 12:01 instead of 12:04, or 12:53? On other NO PARKING signs, it says something more unnoticeable, like “Starting at 2AM.” Like this:

If I had to guess why they say “12:01AM” and not “12AM”, I’d guess that it’s because they want to be clear about which day it is that you can’t park here. They want people to know that when they say “Monday 12:01AM”, they mean the very start of Monday rather than, I suppose, the very end of Monday. But I don’t think this helps any. If you don’t know that 12:00AM Monday refers to the point at which very late Sunday night becomes very early Monday morning, then I don’t think you’ll know that 12:01AM is one minute after that. I’m not blaming them for this—it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the convention that we use.

If I were taking an IQ test and was asked, “What’s the next item in this series: 9PM, 10PM, 11PM, ?”, I would say, “12PM”. Why wouldn’t I? But it turns out that I’d be wrong. If we’re talking about time, then “12AM” is next in the series—which is kind of strange. So this is not so much a complaint about this peculiar parking sign as it is a complaint about our peculiar way of labeling the hours of the day. Why make it so difficult for people to know which are the first 12 hours of the day and which are the second?

What good comes from this easy confusion?


1 Comment

  • momma joe says:

    I think all this means that you might consider getting a job with SF public works? I think they are responsible for all those confusing signs. They are trying to make San Francisco a more tourist friendly town. They are telling residents to be more friendly. Maybe if the street signs were more friendly it would help!! There would be less pedestrians run over too, because drivers wouldn’t be so confused!!! Also, the signs should not be in English, since so many residents and tourists don’t speak English! I like the ones with the “X”s through it or the no left or right turn signs.

    love, Mom