Consider the following items:

  • the warning track around a baseball outfield
  • the red stripe near the end of the a roll of receipt paper
  • the margin bell on a typewriter
  • the rumble strips when a highway becomes a street

They all seem to be of a class: things that give you a warning that something is about to change, that you're almost done. I'm looking for an expression or word for this.

(I was thinking "canary in the coal mine", but that is for emergencies, disasters, that kind of thing -- I want something for the routine changes of life.)

  • 2
    Generically they can be called *ALERTS
    – Chad
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 18:39
  • 1
    What about the word you used already, warning?
    – user10893
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 18:42
  • 1
    I have heard these referred to as "terminal signals" or "marginal signals," I think. If I can find a reference, I'll post an answer.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 18:44
  • These could be considered a type of instructions at the point of need; some might be called expiration warnings (paper, medication) or transition notifications.
    – aedia λ
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 20:08
  • 1
    Dammit! Someone was selling an old-style packet of Rizla cigarette papers on Ebay. Although all the papers had been long-smoked, the seller proudly announced that it still had the original "only 5 leaves left" notification slip. But I can't link to it because someone's already snapped up this collector's piece bargain! :) Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 21:10

7 Answers 7


You might be interested in words like cue, sign, notice, signal. They seem imply less danger than warning or alert.


The word warning you used in your title has the following meanings:

  1. An intimation, threat, or sign of impending danger or evil.
  2. a. Advice to beware. b. Counsel to desist from a specified undesirable course of action.
  3. A cautionary or deterrent example.
  4. Something, such as a signal, that warns.

I think that the second definition or the fourth capture your contextual meanings.

  • I was looking for an expression that meant those warnings as distinct from other kinds of warnings. See Kit's suggestions. Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 18:54

I'd like to suggest transition marker.


I was immediately thinking of the word 'precursor'. This would have to be used in context though I guess.


You could further categorise each of the previous words into sub classes: visual and auditory. Such as the auditory alert of an alarm. Or the sensory effects created by the bumps in the road or the visual signs of solid vs. broken lane markings.

  • 1
    Hey, get me a name for the categories and we'll start looking at the sub-categories! Actually, the categorization that interests me are the passive, built-in ones like rumble strips and the end-of-roll tinting, and more active ones like the margin bell and somebody waving a flag. I do not consider markings at the actual limit (like lane markings) or ones that are wholly static, so that your experience doesn't change as you approach the limit (like lane markings again) to be in this category at all. Commented Jul 30, 2011 at 14:26

Perhaps you could use 'fringe' or 'margin'?

They often part of routine changes.

Most of the time "fringe" refers to the decorative textile trim attached to the edge of a piece of clothing, and by metaphor to similar-looking hairstyles and things attached to the edges of curtains, flags, etc.

Most of the time "margin" refers to routine boundaries, and entering and exiting those boundaries are a normal and unremarkable occurrence.

However, sometimes these words are related to disastrous or potentially disastrous situations --

For example, the "margin of safety" of an elevator or a bridge is the range between the maximum load it is ever expected to actually handle, and the load that will cause catastrophic collapse.

Many legal documents mention "infringed", "infringing", "infringement", or etc. My understanding is that has something to do with laws that are intended to protect people from coming anywhere close to more serious problems. Such laws often carry very minor penalties (or nothing more than a warning).


I would back point #3 as provided by simchona;-

  • caution - attention to safety; prudence, carefulness.
  • cautionary - that gives or serves as a warning. Oxford English

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.