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Native speaker here, and recently I got into a discussion with my pops about the word 'signage'. His contention is that the word 'signage' is entirely superfluous and is only used as a $5 alternative to the word 'signs'. My contention is that there may be (maybe not, too) a valid reason for using signage instead of signs.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word signage was first seen in 1976, which makes me think he may be correct - after all, if it were grammatically correct, one would think it would have appeared alongside the word signs.

If it is grammatically correct, why would signage have taken so long to appear? Is there something inherently different in how we think about our signs in modern times?

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    Have you looked up the definitions? I went to dictionary.com and got drastically different meanings. There's a bit of overlap, but they are distinct words. – VampDuc Aug 12 '15 at 16:49
  • Merriam webster defines signage simply as "signs... or a system of such signs" merriam-webster.com/dictionary/signage . I guess my question is more related to usage / history. When is either appropriate? – crypticsymbols Aug 12 '15 at 16:54
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    Based off the definitions from MW, signage refers to the conveyance of the message--icons, words, arrows--whereas sign refers to the display itself. In this image, the entire yellow block is a "sign" whereas the planes, people, arrow, and words are "signage". In certain contexts, signage and sign can be interchangeable, but they have their own distinct meanings. – VampDuc Aug 12 '15 at 16:58
  • VampDuc, can you reply as an answer instead of a comment so I can (possibly) accept your answer later? :) – crypticsymbols Aug 12 '15 at 17:00
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    @john-lawler, please add as an answer so I can upvote. Very helpful! – crypticsymbols Aug 12 '15 at 18:07
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Based off the definitions from Merriam-Webster (Signage; Sign), signage refers to the conveyance of the message—icons, words, arrows—whereas sign refers to the display itself.

enter image description here

In the above image, the entire yellow block is a "sign" whereas the planes, people, arrow, and words are "signage".

In certain contexts, signage and sign can be interchangeable, but they have their own distinct meanings.

  • Good answer, but in my subsequent reading I've been given the impression that signage could mean the specific system in which the signs are laid out - 'good signage' meaning a system of signs that is laid out in a sensible way (i.e., spread along a route at each turn, as opposed to just a jumble in a lobby). Could it mean both? – crypticsymbols Aug 12 '15 at 17:59
  • @crypticsymbols Yes, it is the same thing. A sign is a "thing" containing information whereas signage defines the "conveyance" of the information. Another example is traveling down the road, seeing various billboards for "Worlds Best Pie" at 50 miles, 40 miles, 25 miles, 15 miles, 5 miles, and TURN RIGHT HERE FOR PIE. The billboards are signs and the use of the signs is signage. – VampDuc Aug 12 '15 at 18:07

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