A Novel Turn of Phrase

11-07-2019 07:07

Perhaps more common

Than I’d like to imagine

The enormous illuminated message board that stands out over the traffic on the M25 displayed the words

“Oncoming vehicle”

With phased reductions in the subsquent variable speed limit

The traffic ahead of me began to concertina

I turned off at the junction

Took an alternative route

Just in case

This was the real-time automobile version of “the light at the end of the tunnel is the light of an oncoming train”

As Half Man Half Biscuit sang


n.b. This term, “Oncoming vehicle” is pretty un-nerving when you are in traffic travelling between 60 / 80 mph (96 / 129 kph). My initial reaction was to question my interpretation of the display; my second was a growing realisation that this was the sort of traffic incident that would require a well-practised police intervention; my third was to speculate how this might be played out in the media; my fourth was to ask myself, “Do you feel lucky?” I decided to take the exit offered, thankfully, before I joined the developing queue ahead.

If your knowledge of English is still developing “Oncoming vehicle” may have escaped your CELTA teacher’s list of handy terms to keep you alive, basically it means “Someone is driving on the wrong side of the motorway and is coming straight at you.”

The use of the word ‘vehicle’, whilst technically correct, lends itself to feverish speculation as to the nature of this oncoming machine. Is it a phrase on a list approved for motorway signage by the DfT (“Daft”) or Department for Transport?

A problem faced on the motorways is the credibility of the signs. So often a sign promises excitement (“Incident Ahead”) without delivering, or imposes variable speed restrictions for no apparent reason. Thus many drivers are sceptical of these electronically displayed messages; a bit like the Conservative governments’ series of empty promises.

Of course the oncoming vehicle message could be referring to Boris Johnson in a chariot.


CLP 10/07/2019