When the Alarm Goes “Off”

When an alarm goes off, people do not ask “what is going off”, they ask: “what is going on?”    It gets worse. In buildings, you have to “set” an alarm system so that it will turn “on” whenever someone breaks a circuit causing the alarm to go “off”.   With most other appliances, if you break the circuit, they will not remain on, and will not operate.  This is particularly true with stereos, televisions, and refrigerators: when they go “off”, they will not make a sound.

But an alarm system is different somehow.  Not only will they make a terrible racket causing innocent bystanders to want to find toilet paper, but the system that has gone “off” defies the meaning of the word by sending a signal through an open circuit that is “on”.  It sends it to a security company some distance away.  Once there, the signal in some instances turns “on” a flashing light.  This alerts whoever happens to be gazing at it to pick up the phone and call somebody.  That way,  they can have a brilliant conversation with someone who would otherwise be sound asleep:

“Sir, the alarm is on in your building.”

“Huh?  It is? Why?”

“I don’t know, but it’s going off.”

“Huh?  How long will it take to go off?”

“It’s already going off right now.”

“Well, what do you need me to do?”

“You, or someone needs to re-set the alarm.”

“You mean I have to go turn it back on?”

“Yes, but first you have to turn it off.”

“I thought it was going off by itself!”

“It is.  But that’s because it is on.  Someone will still have to turn it off before you turn it back on.”

“If I turn it back on, will someone else have to come back down there and turn it off?”

“Only if you set it off.”

“So I’m to set it on?”

“Yes.  But you have to turn off the alarm before you set it on.”


Alarm sirens and horns can put up quite a fuss.  Personally,  I think they are much more annoying when they are “on” than when they are “off”, but everybody is entitled to their opinion.  By now, the burglar has had time to grab whatever he was after, and make a clean get-away.  In the meantime, the police have been notified.  If they have nothing better to do, they might want to ride by, and check it out.

But the police will not go inside where the burglar by chance could still be hiding until you go down there and turn off the alarm that is going “off”.  That means you have to go inside before the police will.  Even so, by the time the police get there (if they ever do), the intruder will have been long gone, anyway.  And if the bandit was so thoughtless as to not remember to break a door or window while he was there,  you will be charged between twenty-five and fifty bucks for a “false alarm”.

In quantum mechanics, you can have “off” and “on” at the same time.  Maybe somewhere within that new-fangled arithmetic is some principle supporting alarm terminology, as well as the commonly used expression:

“Raise that window down!”


“There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more from apprehension than reality.”  -Seneca (Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD)

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dostadawg on March 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

    V B: graduate of the school of “George Carlin” humor. Good one.


  2. Posted by Bonnie on March 21, 2012 at 11:57 am

    What’s scary to me if that this is how it really is!!


  3. Posted by Bonnie on March 21, 2012 at 11:57 am

    “is that” not if that.


  4. Posted by Betty on March 21, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    I agree with Bonnie!


  5. My word for the day — hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia . It means “fear of long words.”
    Speaking of which — Tell me your phobias, and I’ll tell you what you’re afraid of.
    Your “off” reference reminded me of some other anomalies in our language.
    Fiction and non-fiction in our libraries, as if fiction were the standard.
    Novel, a thoroughly established category. It means “new.”
    “Climb down from that tree!”
    Semi means half. Why is it the standard term for the great majority of large trucks?
    Unleaded. Why is that term still used?
    Piano. Doesn’t that just mean soft?
    American. Indian. Shocks.
    I could go on . . . and on . . . and on . . .


  6. Posted by Nadeen on March 21, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    And then there is “moving up” on the calendar (or “moving back”). I am never sure whether those change in dates mean that the event is sooner or later. As always, VB, it was a pleasure to vicariously spend some minutes of my workaday morning (ahem – some of us still do work) with you.


  7. Fire alarm goes OFF in our house every time we cook in the oven, it seems. No way to turn it OFF when it goes OFF either because it’s hardwired ON. I have to turn the ceiling fan ON to get the alarm to turn OFF.

    What a racket!


  8. Posted by Jane Leonard on March 21, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I am going to buy that “new” product poise – to read your posts! Too funny Van.


  9. Posted by Marlene Humberd on March 22, 2012 at 2:08 am

    LOL That’s the advantage of livin’ in the country….no need for alarm systems . Everyone can see coming down the road, if a car “belongs ” at our house . If they don’t match up right , they just call the police to check it out. When we got a new red truck last fall , we had at least 10 officer “swing- bys “. ‘Course the cup of coffee and the donuts I gave the officers as a thank you might have contributed some to the frequency of visits. ; ) Thanks again , Van , for always giving me a smile .


  10. Posted by little d on March 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    Yep, an interesting observation VT. Eyed had my suspicions about certain electrical control mechanisms ever since I found out what their names were.

    Switches ? I thought to myself, Momma told me to go outside to get one the other day, and She threatened me that if I didn’t get her a good one, She would go outside herself and personally pick one just so properly fitted.

    Momma’s switches could turn up the heat quick when She activated’em.

    Now later on, as my introduction to switches continued, I found out they was working on more stuff than just right and wrong, and were in fact, in charge of lots of stuff that needed some direction.

    That’s when I started getting suspicious right there. Besides, anyone would observe I figured, that there ain’t no way that any letter, much less a ( S ) could hide what was spelled right after it.

    So now I figured, Witches had used the letter ( S ) to disguise themselves, and they had been put in charge to run damn near everything since Momma’s right and wrong class .

    Anyway, thats how little d figured things got so turned around with respect to your word squash, its all a result of something known as a spell, a 26 letter conspiracy with a Witch at the Switch.

    little d


  11. Congratulations, Van, I have nominated you for the KREATIV BLOGGER AWARD.

    Go to my blog to see your name in bright lights, then check out the rules for the award, which I’ve pasted below:

    The Kreativ Blogger award comes with the following rules:
    1. You must thank the person who has given you the award.
    2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
    3. Link the person who has nominated you for the award.
    4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
    5. Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers.
    6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
    7. Leave a comment on which of the blogs to let them know they have been nominated.


  12. I saw your blog on Cindy Brown’s nominee list, very funny!! I will sign up to follow you, feel free to cehck me out as well, http://www.lisagradessweinstein.blogspot.com
    All the best,


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