Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The difference between "vacant" and "vacancy"

There are things one notices while spending a weekend with a group of people who care intently about choosing the correct word for the purpose. Keith Geckeler pointed this sign out to me on the way to lunch on Saturday.

A parking garage would be "vacant" when it is empty. It would have a "vacancy" when it still has a free space for a car. It would be "full" when there is no more room for any cars to park.

Someone may have saved a letter by not spelling out "VACANCY", but this sign saying that no one is parking in the garage might not encourage a customer considering using it. It might be nice to know there is room, but does one want to be the only or very first customer of the day? (Do the locals know something about why no one else is using the garage?)

On the other hand, the "occupied/vacant" distinction on an airplane restroom door makes a lot of sense. I would not be sure what to do if a sign in that setting said "VACANCY", suggesting that there might be room for more people inside.

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