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What do you call these? Protest signs?

enter image description here

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    In addition to "placards" suggested by the answer, you can simply say "signs". – Eddie Kal Oct 30 at 5:34
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    What to call something will very often differ by locale; so it would be best if you could edit the post to indicate a particular dialect or region you are interested in. – choster Oct 30 at 16:26
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    @EddieKal : "Signs" fails to distinguish them from the more-or-less permanently mounted signs that say "Elm Street" and "McDonalds" and "Speed limit 35." – Michael Hardy Oct 31 at 17:49
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    @MichaelHardy Context usually does a good job of doing that though. If somebody wrote "The protesters were holding signs." you probably wouldn't think they were holding a sign for McDonald's. – Anthony Grist Nov 1 at 10:32
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Calling them signs is perfectly fine. I would describe this photo as people carrying protest signs.

With a few exceptions, English (at least American English) does not have different words for signs in different contexts. Instead, the type of sign meant is usually determined by the context.

If I say...

A throng of protesters with signs

It's reasonable to assume I mean protest signs or placards as in the photo from the question.

Workers were picketing the company for better wages

They were probably carrying picket signs. Picketing is basically a special type of protesting, where workers protest against a specific employer.

We need to fuel up the car, help me look for signs

This probably means look for gas station signs.

I couldn't believe how elaborate the signs in Las Vegas were...

This is probably talking about the famous Vegas casino signs.

In cases where context may not make it clear, we will use adjectives to identify the type of sign.

A street sign means the sign that identifies the name of a street.

A traffic sign is a sign that provides instructions or rules for traffic, such as speed limits, lane changes, stop signs, and so on.

Real estate signs are signs advertising property for sale.

Yard signs are signs people put in their yards, usually to promote a cause or political candidate, or advertise a local event.

Signs companies put up to identify their businesses are usually just called signs.

There are some exceptions.

A large roadside advertising sign is called a billboard, and a sign advertising a theatrical performance is called a playbill. In the past, the word "bill" was used to mean written advertising in public. For the most part this has fallen out of use, but it still hangs around in these specific phrases.

You may sometimes see signs that say "Post No Bills." This is, somewhat humorously, a sign telling you not to put up any signs.

Another exception is the marquee. This is a structural piece which overhangs the front of a building, and also acts as a sign. Nowadays it's most often used to refer to theater signs.

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    Yes. You can specify what type of sign, e.g. protest sign, campaign sign, advertising sign... – jamesqf Oct 30 at 15:39
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    "Signs" fails to distinguish them from the more-or-less permanently mounted signs that say "Elm Street" and "McDonalds" and "Speed limit 35." – Michael Hardy Oct 31 at 17:50
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    @MichaelHardy just because the word signs can mean different things doesn't mean it's not the best word for it. – Ivo Beckers Oct 31 at 22:07
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    @MichaelHardy English does not have lots of different words for signs in different contexts. A really big flat roadside advertising sign is called a billboard, but other than that, they're mostly just called signs. A sign carried by a striking worker is a picket sign. A sign you put in your yard is a yard sign. A sign identifying a street is a street sign. A sign for regulating traffic is a traffic sign or road sign. – barbecue Oct 31 at 23:28
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    @MichaelHardy barbecue's comment is both right and wrong. There is a bunch of words for signs - banner, alert, bill, poster, adboard, hoarding, and probably the most correct: placard - but that is by no means all the different types of signs. The best part of the comment (which imho should be upgraded to be included in the answer) is that the best identification is via adjectives. 'Protest', 'personal', 'hand-made', 'demonstration' could all be used as sign quantifiers. – mcalex Nov 1 at 9:59
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The word you're looking for is placard.

Defined by Cambridge English dictionary as:

a large piece of card, paper, etc. with a message written or printed on it, often carried in public places by people who are complaining about something

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    It's technically correct but would come off as stilted and overly formal in everyday speech. At least in most the US. – eps Oct 30 at 13:24
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    @eps I'd guess ‘placard’ may be more common in the UK, then.⠀ (My initial mental picture would probably be a sign held up on a stick, as shown in the link — but it can apply to signs held directly too.) – gidds Oct 30 at 14:03
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    At least where I live, "placard" is more likely to be understood as something like a name plate, rather than a large piece of paper or cardboard. – Redwolf Programs Oct 30 at 14:17
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    In the UK you'd probably be more likely to call them placards. "Signs" makes it sound as though you are talking about notices that give directions or information, not something that someone is holding up in order to convey a message. I would probably only call them signs if the word "placard" had temporarily slipped my mind. – rjpond Oct 30 at 15:16
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    US resident here and the only time I hear “placard” is in Airplane safety briefings; “you must abide by all crew member instructions and posted placards.” I would call these “signs” or specifically “protest signs” – Josh Oct 30 at 15:41
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In both Australia and New Zealand this would certainly be known as a placard. If you said someone was carrying a sign (and the context already implied that it wasn't purely functional signage) then it would also be understood.

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As an addendum to the Australia and New Zealand answer, the major political parties call mass-printed political signage corflutes. Specifically for non-moving signs such as those attached to walls or fences, but the term is often used for signs being carried or worn as well.

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  • Hi, welcome to ELL! This is very interesting. I haven't heard this term. Seems like it came from "corrugated plastic"? – Eddie Kal Nov 2 at 7:38
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    @EddieKal Corflute is a brand name for corrugated plastic signs, but has come to mean any type of corrugated plastic, in the same way most adhesive bandages are called band-aids by consumers. Corrugated plastic has been a popular material for political signs in the last few elections, to the point where most people involved in campaigns will use Corflute to mean any political sign regardless of material. Here's a source that goes into the history a bit more – Jayleaf Nov 3 at 8:23
  • Very helpful and informative. Thanks! Hope you stick around on this site. We need more speakers of Australian/New Zealand English. – Eddie Kal Nov 3 at 8:27
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These people are picketing, so these are picket signs.

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    Why do you consider them to be picketing? They're simply protesting. To picket is to attempt to prevent people from passing in order to go to work, as the link you provides says. – gone fishin' again. Oct 31 at 18:11
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    I agree and disagree with gfa. Picket signs are signs attached to pickets, flat wooden staves, but these are simply handheld signs. Picketing in terms of protesting is not limited to labor disputes; you can picket at a location simply to draw attention to a demonstration, at least in AmE. – choster Nov 1 at 1:42
  • In British English, these people would be "protestors" - "pickets" is reserved for striking workers outside their workplace (or in older usage, for soldiers on guard duty, which would appear to be where this usage has come from.) "Signs" is a very general word, whereas "placard" is very specific and the only totally correct answer in BrE. – Mike Brockington Nov 2 at 9:53

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