Every other time I see a "wet floor" sign the following idea comes to my mind. That sign forces me through unnecessary mental effort to deduce that wet floors can be slippery.

I think it's like providing a set of differential equations that describe slippery floors and expecting that everyone recognizes them and deduces that there's danger of falling. The sign actually means "man, the floor is slippery, you can fall and break apart" and IMO it could just read "slippery floor" instead.

Is there any reason why those signs use "wet floor" phrasing?

  • [OT] alternate version: just-whatever.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/…
    – o0'.
    Jan 19 '11 at 14:09
  • 3
    What I don't understand is why they can't simply dry the floor before leaving it unattended. Sorry, that's some part of English culture I don't get. Also, I'm glad you don't take wet as a verb here. ;o)
    – deceze
    Jan 20 '11 at 6:20
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    @deceze: Washing is not the only way to make the floor wet. Where I live we have snow 5 months every year. People bring snow on their shoes, snow falls off, melts and floor becomes wet. This should have been solved by using special tiles with non-slippery surface, yet the company that owns our office building installed perfectly polished granite tiles that are extremely slippery when wet and now tries to "fix" it with those signs.
    – sharptooth
    Jan 20 '11 at 6:55
  • Fair enough. :) But then I don't get why this needs pointing out. If snow is such a common problem, then people should be used to wet surfaces. Which should also mean that they don't do stupid things such as putting in marble floors in the first place, as you said. Either way, I don't get it. No country I've lived in so far had or needed these signs...
    – deceze
    Jan 20 '11 at 6:58
  • @deceze: Snow is common, but slippery floors inside buildings are not that common actually. Most of the surfaces people walk over are covered with asphalt, concrete, non-polished stones, non-slippery tiles I mention. Only a small fraction is covered by improperly chosen slippery materials. The only case when people expect the surface to slippery is when it is covered with ice, they don't expect a clean surface to be slippery.
    – sharptooth
    Jan 20 '11 at 7:06

Here are several reasons why:

  • Slippery floors could be hazardous, but not all slippery floors are wet, and wet floors could be hazardous in other ways besides causing slippage. Thus, "Wet Floor" is a better caution than "Slippery Floor".

  • "Wet Floor" is easier to translate into other languages than "Slippery Floor".

  • Conciseness is desired in signage; wet is shorter and more direct than slippery

  • "Wet Floor" is idiomatic; "Slippery Floor" isn't so much.

  • The last one just begs the question, I think. :-) Jan 23 '11 at 4:17

The sign says "wet floor" because the floor is wet.

The sign is giving you full and complete information about a condition of the floor that is not its normal state. Wet floors are not always slippery; slippery floors are not always wet.

Some people might be more concerned about getting their pants wet when splashing through the water; should the sign say "splashy floor" for them? Or "shoe-shrinking floor" if they're more concerned about their nice leather wingtips? "Foot-discomforting floor" if they're wearing thin sandals that can be soaked through in one step?

The sign gives you all the information you need to take whatever action you deem appropriate for dealing with the situation.

  • 7
    Hmm.. That sign usually appears after someone washes the floor. Can the floor really be washed to such extent that shoes shrink?
    – sharptooth
    Jan 19 '11 at 6:43
  • 1
    Probably not, but that wouldn't necessarily prevent people from worrying about it. :-) Perhaps "shoe-dampening floor" would be more apropos.
    – Hellion
    Jan 19 '11 at 17:46
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    I wanted to upvote this, but then I checked Google Images and it appears that more often than not, the signs in question also feature a pictogram of a person slipping. So to me as an outsider (we don't have such signs where I live), the intent does not appear to be "the floor is wet, draw your own conclusions", but rather "the floor is wet, thus slippery, thus you might fall and break your neck". So I'm actually with suszterpatt and Jimi on this: wet is simply shorter and more easily distinguishable from far away.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 19 '11 at 18:30
  • @sharptooth, it also occurs on hard floors if there is a high probability of outside traffic tracking in moisture, like on a rainy or snowy day. Jan 19 '11 at 20:55
  • 2
    @RegDwight - Good point. On the other hand it would be hard to create a shoe shrinking pictogram :)
    – Adam
    Jan 20 '11 at 0:04

Also, since "wet" is much shorter, it can be written in larger letters and consequently seen from further away.

  • I also think it's easier on the English vocabulary of the (potentially non-native) reader.
    – user541686
    Jan 6 '13 at 6:00

I think the reason is more people in the world understand the meaning of "wet" than "slippery". Its short and easier for non native speakers (perhaps there may be kids who understand wet but not slippery). Summary: Wet is shorter and easier than slippery.


'wet floor' is a cautionary notification & serves the purpose of alerting people, whereas 'slippery floor' sounds more 'panicky' and might induce unnecessary anxiety. Its all about conveying the message in a relatively 'comforting' way.

  • do firemen also say "there could be fire inside, please don't go in" or "the building is on fire, RUN!!" ? The person can only break his neck or bones on wet floor, so maybe one could be reminded of it.
    – IAdapter
    Jan 22 '11 at 23:20

People are used to seeing wet paint signs, so this is short and analogous to that.


Because it's politically correct.

Write 'slippery' and a gaggle of lawyers will fall on you, like the pox on the early Norman clergy, braying for a share of the spoils after protracted litigation.

  • What could be politically incorrect in "slippery"?
    – sharptooth
    Jan 24 '11 at 9:34
  • I should have added a smiley or something. It was an attempt at sarcasm. Jan 24 '11 at 9:35
  • Looks like we will soon hear of someone sued over just publishing a dictionary - dictionaries contain lots of politicallty incorrect words.
    – sharptooth
    Jan 24 '11 at 9:45
  • @sharptooth Never a truer word said. What's frightening is just how quickly this is going to happen Jan 24 '11 at 10:30

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