I wake up in a hotel room 5,000 miles from my home in Seattle. After breakfast, I step out into the salty air and walk the coastline of the country that invented my language, though I find I can’t understand a good portion of the signs I pass on my way—LET AGREED, one says, prominently, in large print, and it means nothing to me.Unlike the author, I do have an idea about what 'LET AGREED' means, or rather could mean, and therein lies another false turn in my early adventures with English.
Long ago, when I was a little bitty boy in school, still in short pants, conceited as ever, and convinced about my mastery of the English Language, we used to stay a fair distance from the center of the town - all of five Kilometers.
While the distance might seem trivial, for all intent and purpose, in my little provincial world, I might as well have been living in a far distant suburb. The school bus would start at school, packed beyond comprehensible limits - all arms and legs and occasional torsos - but would disgorge most of my friends within fifteen minutes. And then for the rest of my ride home, the bus would be almost empty.
So, I spent a lot of my time staring out of the window on these homeward trips. There wasn't much to look at: rice fields, occasional houses, bamboo groves and fishing ponds. So, when one day a sign was posted outside a house, I quickly noticed it.
"To Let", it said, a message perhaps as compelling as Alice's "Eat me", an imperative call to action. But, what did it mean? As the days flowed, and the sign didn't disappear, I started making my own stories about what it meant.
Perhaps it was a revolutionary slogan by people who wanted to be let to do whatever it was that they wanted to do. Perhaps it was a misspelled sign, and it should have read "Too Late" - a sign to doctors and visitors attending upon a patient, to tell them that it is now too late, and the patient has passed away.
It was truly mysterious, I considered getting off the bus at the stop near the house, walking up to the house, knocking on the door, and then when someone responded, I asking them, "That sign that reads 'To Let', what does it mean?" However, I never did get down there, or walk up to the house, or ask the question, because, for one, the house was too far from mine and I wasn't going to walk all that way home, and, secondly, the sign was taken down after a couple of weeks.
Some time later, I saw a second sign somewhere, which triggered a chain of now forgotten events (possibly involving someone making fun of my fanciful explanation), and I found out what the phrase means. It, of course, means that there is a place for rent. And so, the "LET AGREED" that confused the author of the Atlantic piece, probably means something like, there was a place for rent that we have agreed, on principle, to let someone have, but we are still fishing for alternate lessee.
You really should read the Atlantic article.
1: Loebner prize is an annual competition that implements "Turing test"2. The conversations are carried over a period of five minutes over a chat interface.
2: Turing Test, named after Alan Turing who introduced the concept, is a test of a machine's intelligence capability. A judge has a conversation with one (unseen) machine and one (unseen) person. The machine and man communicating with the judge try to demonstrate that they are human. If it is not possible for the judge to separate the machine from man consistently, then the machine is deemed to be sufficiently human.