exit doors

On the trains in my city, there are announcements in Korean and English as the train approaches each station. The first announcement in English is ‘This stop is (name)’. The second is ‘The exit doors are on your (right/left)’. I was struck by the phrase exit doors. To me, exit doors is awkward. It’s grammatical and makes perfect sense; it’s redundant but we accept redundancy in many contexts. I can’t imagine ever using it, I can’t remember that I’ve ever heard it, and I can’t imagine that it’s a common phrase. Google Ngrams seems to back me up on the last – exit door and exit doors are used much, much less than exit(s) and door(s) (even allowing for the fact that exit door(s) has a far more restricted use at the best of times). Perhaps someone translated the Korean announcement too closely – 내리실 문 (nae-ri-shil mun) means ‘getting off door’.

At the same time, the announcement appears at the bottom of the information screen in the middle of the carriage. It reads ‘The exit door’s on your (right/left)’. The reason is that those words only just fit across the screen, but it reads as though there is only one exit door. To me, it would be better English to announce and display ‘The doors are on your (right/left)’. It might be argued, though, that the doors are always on your right and left; the important thing is which ones are opening and closing. Or, to announce and display ‘The exits are on your (right/left)’. It the same way, it might be argued that there are also doors leading front and rear of this carriage leading to the next carriage. Surely the Gricean maxim of relevance kicks in at some point. The platform announcement is ‘The doors are closing’ – which ones? The relevant ones.

Obviously, I didn’t have a lot else to do on the train ride yesterday. If I’d stayed on the bus, as I’d originally planned, I wouldn’t be posting this today.

PS I can’t remember what the trains in Seoul announce and display. At a rough guess, there’s just an arrow and right or left. But then there are different models of trains operating in Seoul; my city operates only one model.

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