Signs and signifiers

4 min readNov 9, 2022

A lesson in semiotics, for beginners like me

A fan of concert tickets
Image by lori61 from Pixabay

When I was much younger, I spent a lot of time in formal education, studying communications, adult learning, sociology — all those lovely social sciences that went out of style when STEM subjects became the recommended key to future prosperity.

For the longest time, many of the topics and insights I had explored during formal education felt interesting, but not particularly practical or applicable in the real world.

Ah, the hubris of youth.

Now, as I near retirement, I’m finding that my ways of looking at the world are changing and I’m seeing things differently. Here’s one (perhaps odd) example.

I live in a large city near downtown where the skyline is dominated by the edifices of the designated entertainment district. Prominent features are the roofs of two big gathering places — an ice rink and a stadium — that rely on major league sports teams and mass market concerts to attract crowds in the tens of thousands.

The impact of proximity to these gathering places on our neighbourhood is felt most obviously in traffic and access to street parking. When there are no events, traffic flows smoothly and transient parking is readily available.

When it’s showtime, traffic snakes back blocks as suburban visitors descend on the core. Vehicles circle the block in vain looking for an open parking spot. The mass transit system fills up with riders, who then walk the “last mile” to their entertainment of choice.

And you can tell their destinations just by decoding the traffic.

Enormous pickup truck
Photo by FourFour on Unsplash

If the street has filled up with BMWs and Teslas, it’s hockey night in town. On the other hand, if the suburban diesel pickup trucks and premium SVUs have descended, it’s a football game (I’m not going to mention the vomit in the flower beds….).

When major league soccer is on the schedule, the roads are chockablock with minivans.

Foot traffic is no less difficult to interpret. Concertgoers travel in packs, with dress appropriate to the genre of their idols. A dozen…




Recreational writer, collector of antique corkscrews, urban gardener and retired management consultant to social profit organizations. Proudly Canadian.