Is it sarcasm? Witty? Clever? I'm not sure.

At times, I see the message being conveyed indirectly. It's difficult to label it as 'insulting' and that's why, I'm not sure what we call that.


If a premises has CCTV installed, a board reads:

Witty/sarcastic way -

"Smile, you are on camera."

What they actually mean -

This place is under video surveillance, don't do anything bad.

In an open eatery...

"If you are reading this, it means you are literate. Throw waste plates in a dustbin."

What they actually mean -

Don't litter. Mannered people don't do that!

These are just examples. I want to learn what this method is called? What type of conversation that is? Sarcastic, insulting, humorous, witty, disdainful?

I'm not looking strictly for a 'word'. Anything else (i.e. phrase or idiom) will do.


3 Answers 3


It's good-natured humor. The signs are designed to be amusing.

Smart business owners do not purposefully insult their customer base, so we can cross insulting and disdainful off your list:

Sarcastic, insulting, humorous, witty, disdainful?

Oftentimes, the signs allude to certain cultural references, which is why the full extent of the humor might be lost on the learner. For example, there is a famous bumper sticker that says:

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This has been around for decades, and it was designed to be a witty way of discouraging people from tailgating you on the road (i.e., from following you too closely). After a while, though, these bumper stickers became more commonplace. As is the case with many witticisms, the joke got stale as it became more ubiquitous. So, variations started to appear:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

So, in the case of the sign at the restaurant:

If you are reading this, it means you are literate. Throw waste plates in a dustbin.

the first part of that is just another spinoff of the dozens of bumper stickers that begin with IF YOU CAN READ THIS.

As for the surveillance sign, in the early days of television, there was a television show called Candid Camera, where people would play stunts on unsuspecting victims. When it was time to let the person know they were part of a gag, they would be told the show's famous tagline, "Smile! You're on Candid Camera." Many people in the U.S. are familiar with the tagline, even if they've rarely or never watched the show. So the surveillance sign is playing off that television show and its famous line when the truth is revealed.

If someone is not familiar with these cultural references, then the humor of the variants could easily be lost.


The reason why you speak with people in an indirect way is that you think that if you tell them something in a direct way, it'll upset or offend them and you don't want to do so.

I think "diplomacy" is an appropriate word you can use for the "act of telling something to something in an indirect way".

  • She is very direct. I tend to be more diplomatic (The Free Dictionary).

  • It's a diplomatic answer.

  • This job requires tact and diplomacy.

  • People praise him for his tact and diplomacy.

Alternatively, you can use "tact," "tactful," and "tactfully."

As for a signboard, depending on its context and purpose, you can say it's a funnily/humorously/tactfully worded signboard.

  • Good alternatives. However, what would call that? The signboard read diplomatic?
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 8:16
  • These signs are intended to be humorous, not diplomatic.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 9:04

If you are looking for a specific word to label this action, I would use the verb, "to imply". You are making a statement that has the implication that there be some un-mentioned consequence.

Often, the terms 'thought-provoking' or 'attention-getting' would apply. You are saying something, in an offhand way, so that people will engage their intellect and actually respond to the message.

It is easy to ignore a sign that says, "Stay off the grass". But, "Please avoid your mass, from trampling the grass", has a rhyme in it, it suggests that a person's actions would result in destroyed turf. It is short-enough to be digested, but long-enough to catch someone's attention and give them something to think about. It is also friendlier than a straight edict or command.

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