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I was walking in the Norfolk countryside today, when I spotted this sign.

enter image description here

Notice that it is devoid of punctuation. It is obviously a warning sign to motorists. However, it made me giggle. Using any punctuation, how many meanings does it have? You can use colloquialisms.

EDIT: This is a comedy post. The inteneded mening is clear. I am looking for comedy answers!

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Is that sign leading into a private driveway or something? From that angle, with the sign so close to the ground, it looks more like a warning for pedestrians than motorists. –  J.R. Jan 27 '13 at 22:13
    
Nice try, but "comedy posts" aren't suitable for ELU. It's not closed yet, but bet your boots it will be. Whatever - if no-one else has deconstructed this particular possibility, it could mean that [the] dead [people] cause children and animals to slow down. Or that not only the dead, but animals as well, cause children to slow down. –  FumbleFingers Jan 27 '13 at 22:58
    
Before this is closed, here's my interpretation: (Proceed) Dead(ly) Slow (so as not to run over) Children and Animals :-) –  Kristina Lopez Jan 27 '13 at 23:22
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closed as not constructive by Jon Hanna, FumbleFingers, Mitch, Kristina Lopez, Bill Franke Jan 28 '13 at 0:18

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4 Answers

Assuming that ending punctuation (question, exclamation, or period) do not matter, and only commas are used, there are four places to insert a comma and leave one out. So the upper bound on the orthographic variations is sixteen, not all of which make sense. Let's forget about inserting commas and look at syntax.

First the possible phrase structures of the entire thing as a single noun phrase:

((dead slow) children) and animals. {Children dead slow; animals unqualified}

(dead (slow (children))) and animals. {Children dead and slow; animals unqualified}

(dead slow) (children and animals). {Children and animals are dead slow}

dead (slow (children and animals)). {Children and animals are dead, and slow}

dead ((slow children) and animals). {Slow children are dead; animals are dead, but not slow}

The intended meaning is a pair of sentences, from which words are elided for brevity. The first is an imperative, and the second a statement which gives a reason. But there are several ways possibilities for this, depending on which elided words we put back and where we break it into two sentences:

Go dead slow, there are children and animals.

Go dead slow, children! And you too, animals.

Go dead slow, all you children and animals.

The word dead can be a sentence, lamenting the passing of a person or animal, which adds two more possibilities:

Dead! These slow (children and animals)!

Dead! These (slow children), and animals!

So there are at least ten interpretations, though you might have a quibble whether these last two are meaningfully distinct from some of the earlier noun phrases. If you regard questions as being semantically different, that adds to the possibilities, too.

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Someone is getting it! +1 –  learnvst Jan 27 '13 at 22:37
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I believe DEAD SLOW here means VERY VERY SLOW. Dead is being used as an adverb, much like in the expression dead stop.

So, the first line means GO SLOW – GO SLOWER THAN SLOW.

The next three lines explain why: THERE ARE CHILDREN AND ANIMALS RUNNING ABOUT.

That said, I had to read it a couple of times to figure it out. If I saw this sign, it might have the unfortunate effect of distracting me, by causing me to wonder about its odd wording, instead of paying extra attention to my surroundings.

Of course, if you are looking for comedy, there's an alternate explanation: Baby zombies and alligators!

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Whooosh! Perhaps you should have read the question a couple of times too? :) –  Poldie Jan 27 '13 at 22:52
    
@Poldie: I tried to, but that darned sign kept distracting me! :^) –  J.R. Jan 27 '13 at 23:02
    
Just a small correction. Dead here is actually used as an adverb. –  deutschZuid Jan 29 '13 at 6:32
    
Nowadays, it would (by some) be rescued from the adverb jumble and reclassified as a degree (adverb-) modifier. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 29 '13 at 10:29
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Is it a warning sign of some sort? Advising people to drive 'dead slow' because children and animals are nearby? In which case it should read 'Dead slow. Children and animals.'

I know these signs often don't put punctuation in. When I was 10 I asked mum what my Australian school crossing flags mean, because they just state 'children crossing.' It should either be Children*'s* crossing or 'children are crossing.

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The first and intended meaning is an instruction to drive very slowly because children and animals may be around.

Alternatively, it could refer to children and animals that are themselves very slow.

Or it could be that slow children and animals are dead.

In these last two, the adjectives could also only apply to the children, and not the animals.

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