Dear Straight Dope:
Is there a specific reason that every deer crossing sign posted by this nation's roadways depicts a deer with his antlers distinctly on backwards? I'm sure you can shed some light on the subject.
SDStaff Melis replies:
You know … you go through life, kinda living in your own little world … when someone points something out to you that you realize you never really thought about. Your mention of the deer crossing sign did that for me.
At first, I was skeptical, so I checked out the Manual of Traffic Signs (http://www.trafficsign.us/650/warn/w11-3.gif) and looked at the sign. And my gawd! The antlers appeared backwards! The next step was to see where the drawing originated. I wrote to several traffic sign companies to see if they would ‘fess up … and they must have believed either that I was personally complaining about their signs or that I was off my rocker, because I received no response.
Then I started to think. The deer on the sign is depicted in silhouette — a two-dimensional drawing. It wouldn’t show anything like curving antlers. So if the deer had antlers that maybe curved around the head … wouldn’t they show up as backwards on a sign? On this hunch, I checked an encyclopedia that had pictures of deer … and bingo! The deer you see on the traffic sign is one of the most common deer in North America — the white-tailed deer. This picture from the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia isn’t the one I was looking at, but it does show that the antlers thrust forward. There’s a better illustration in the online Encyclopedia Britannica (www.eb.com), but that’s a subscription service so I can’t give you a direct link. Trust me, though — it’s a photo of a white-tailed that closely resembles the deer on the sign, antlers and all.
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