Cecil Franks; an Isle of Wight librarian was freed yesterday by a team of skilled language experts following a harrowing ten-hour ordeal trapped in a linguistic dichotomy in the men’s toilets. The lavatories had just been redecorated, and a sign placed over the towel rail saying ‘Now Wash Your Hands.’ Mr Franks apparently went for his break at 9:30am but when he failed to reappear by mid-afternoon, a search party was sent out for him. ‘Much later we heard him calling from the toilet and washroom cubicle; it appears that having washed his hands after using the toilet, he found himself instructed by the sign to wash his hands again.
‘The moment he finished washing and drying his hands, there was the sign again – he could have been stuck in this logic loop indefinitely until exhaustion caused him to pass out, but fortunately we were able to negotiate a way through the situation,’ explained Professor Quentin Harries, leader of the crack Linguistic Paradox Rescue Squad from the Oxford English Dictionary. It was considered too risky to send the linguists into the toilet themselves, in case they too became trapped. Instead they used a loud-hailer to relay the message that imperative notices like the one Mr Franks could see could on occasion be interpreted subjectively without loss of clarity. It took a few more hours for Mr Franks to accept that instructions such as ‘Keep off the Grass’ could not always be viewed as absolutes otherwise the gardener could never cut the lawns.
‘This and a dozen or so other examples instilled him with the courage to break away from his continuous cycle of washing and drying his hands for sufficient time for us to remove the notice and send him home for a period of rest,’ said the chief linguist, adding; ‘His hands were very clean though.’
The incident has prompted the recovering Mr Franks to demand a review of helpful signs around the library complex; the ‘Silence Please’ signs in the foyer have been removed for the benefit of people on the way home, and the ‘No Smoking’ sign has been augmented with the conditional clause: ‘Unless of course you are on fire, in which case we have no lawful reason to hold you personally responsible.’