You mean deer can’t read?

Some time ago, I came across an amusing audio clip of a woman calling a radio talk show to complain about the fact that she had collided three times with deer within the past year near places where there were deer crossing signs. She said that she couldn’t understand why the state placed those signs in high traffic areas instead of places where there were fewer cars. It began to slowly dawn on the radio hosts that the woman thought that the deer chose their crossing points based on the signs.

You can listen to the exchange here.

I did not blog about it then since I was not sure if it was a hoax by the caller or the radio station but it appears to be genuine.

Then reader Jim sent me a link to an article published last week in a local newspaper in the Cleveland area by Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm, where she repeats the same idea, suggesting that this bizarre misconception may be more widespread than one would have imagined possible.

Signs that read “Deer Crossing” and the like are going to continue to pop up throughout our country including Avon Lake, but who are these signs for? Deer cannot read, do not obey the law and probably will cross where they wish. Although adorable companions, it is hard to remember the last time that the news reported an animal talking, thinking or providing significant input for the benefit of society. Yet, these signs cost taxpayers like so much of government.

Dogs, cats, whales, seals and deer are animals that might enhance a human’s life, but all cannot read, write or think. They are animals.

Demonstrating the most extraordinary journalistic dexterity, she then pivots from skepticism about the possibility of learned deer to a condemnation of Obamacare, abortion, and animal welfare groups, all in under 300 words. You have to read the full short piece to appreciate her logic. One commenter to her article said it best, “When I’m driving around, the kind of signs I’d like to see are the ones warning me that Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm is in the area, on the loose.”

You can reconstruct the line of thinking such people have adopted. People are encouraged to cross the street at those places where there are pedestrian crossing signs, so that must be the same reasoning behind posting deer crossing signs.


  1. Acolyte of Sagan says

    I saw the video first time around and have watched it several times since; it gets funnier every time.

  2. Frank says

    This reminded me of a piece This American Life did about people with silly childhood beliefs that didn’t get corrected until well into adulthood. One example was a woman who never got the memo that unicorns aren’t real. Until, as an adult, she was talking with a group of people and asked whether unicorns were endangered or extinct, and got exactly the response you would expect.

    The deer crossing thing seems like the sort of idea that would make perfect sense to a child, but somehow made its way into adulthood. And once it becomes a cause, as apparently it did for the caller, is not critically evaluated.

    The transcript of the TAL piece is here:

  3. mck9 says

    Where there’s heavy traffic, and they don’t want the deer to cross, they should just put up a sign: “The buck stops here.”

  4. AsqJames says

    Demonstrating the most extraordinary journalistic dexterity, she then pivots from skepticism about the possibility of learned deer to a condemnation of Obamacare, abortion, and animal welfare groups, all in under 300 words.

    I just want to say that sentence is quite beautifully written.


    I like your politics, I like your humour and outlook on life, and I find your thoughts and insights interesting even on the rare occasions when I disagree with them. But I wouldn’t drop in and read your blog every day if it weren’t for the quality of your wordsmithery.

    Thank you.

  5. Ulysses says

    The signs that annoy me are “watch for falling rocks”. There’s one of those signs near where I work. I’ve stopped by the side of the road and waited for up to 15 minutes and not seen a single falling rock. The sign tells a lie!

  6. throwaway, promised freezed peach, all we got was the pit says

    I think this is one o those cases where my brain talks to my eyes and says “Stop messing with me, you didn’t really just read that…” right at the switcheroo from animals to Obamacare and abortion. And then it was a stranger sensation as I felt my mind just up and leave my head, as if it couldn’t deal with the logical equivalent of walking into a pole face first.

  7. Timothy says

    “I did not blog about it then since I was not sure if it was a hoax by the caller or the radio station but it appears to be genuine.”

    I completely lost it when the DJ says, “Um ….”

    Absolutely hilarious.

    Made my day.

  8. bad Jim says

    In the early days of Saturday Night Live there was a skit involving deer pondering the significance of a “Deer Crossing” sign. One decided it meant he had the right of way and leaped out into traffic. Screech. Thud.

    The purely graphical sign I encounter every day on my way downtown is something I’ve learned to blazon “Or, a stag saltant sable”, which is to say, gold (yellow), a leaping black deer. The shape of the sign, though significant to drivers, is generally unmentioned in heraldry.

  9. maddog1129 says

    When I was very young, I remember reading the sign, “Watch for rocks” … and I thought, “Rocks don’t need watches!”

  10. drr1 says

    I should be working, but of course on reading this, I had to scroll through the comments to the linked article, many of which are LOL-funny. Here’s the best, penned by one Michael E:

    The problem you aren’t addressing is the continued reduction in education spending. If your Republican representatives would restore funding to public schools, then these deer can get back into the classrooms and start learning English. Deer do not have the money to go to private schools, and the more we reduce public school funding, the more accidents we are going to see caused by illiterate deer. If you want to know why the cost of healthcare is rising, it’s not Obamacare, but under educated deer, and that, my dear, rests on your shoulders.

  11. stonyground says

    Years ago, I used to work as an industrial plant fitter*. I used to find the level of stupidity that I encountered to be unbelievable. Since then I have realised that people can be intelligent in different ways, and that some people just don’t understand machines, but can be quite clever in other ways. Having said all that, I suggest that this woman isn’t very bright, it is a conlusion that is difficult to avoid.

    *I’m not sure that the word ‘fitter’ is known throughout the Anglosphere. The job involved repairing and maintaining plant machinery, diggers, dumper trucks, concrete mixers, portable compressors and generators, water pumps etc. The job often involved arriving at a building site and being greeted by a ranting idiot who was in a rage because the machine had stopped working. The reason was almost always that the machine in question had been run out of fuel or oil or, in the case of the water pumps, had been piped up back to front.

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