SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Warning: This Warning May Make You Crazy
By Dave Kiffer


May 12, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - I was at my favorite office supply purveyor last week, when I noticed something odd on the pens I was buying. They came with a disclaimer which read in part "please remove cap before use. Failure to remove cap will prevent proper operation."

Well, duh.

I made a smarty pants comment about it at the check stand and the award-winning customer service representative April replied "well, there's your next column."

Well, double duh on me!

A few weeks ago, I was reading a sleeping pill label (slow day!) and I noticed that amongst the warnings was that the product "could cause drowsiness."

One would hope so, but I like the fact they qualified it with a "could." Even a "should" was apparently too definitive. I assume they have been sued in the past by someone who was not drowsy while operating heavy machinery after taking a sleeping pill. Go figure.

It does seem like the phrase "assume nothing" is an important marketing point these days. In addition to the endless warnings or disclaimers that we get on virtually every medicine package or commercial these days, we also get remarkably specific - and idiotic - instructions or qualifiers on other items.

For example, we bought a new vacuum cleaner this week and it had the following helpful instructions. "Please assemble before using."

Natch, the web is a great place for looking up "odd" or "weird" package instructions. I can't vouch for the authenticity of all the following, but 200 million "Googler's" can't be wrong! (check out among other sites).

A hairdryer reportedly carried the instructions "Do Not Use While Sleeping."

An iron carried the proviso "Do Not Iron Clothes On Body."

A chainsaw warned "Do Not Attempt To Stop Chain With Your Hands."

Other items apparently tried to be helpful by specifying the proper use.

A shower cap box read "Fits One Head."

A frozen dinner offered a serving suggestion: "Defrost."

A bar of soap had clear instructions: "Directions: Use Like Soap."

A bag of airline peanuts: "Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts."

A vacuum cleaner allegedly warned "Do Not Pick Up Anything That Is Burning."

A wheel barrow warned to "Not Use If Temperature Exceeds 140 Degrees."

A camera offered the following advice: "Camera will not work unless film has been loaded."

Some instructions just didn't make sense no matter how you tried to slice them.

A bag of chips advertised a contest and apparently urged a bit of shoplifting "You Could Be A Winner. No Purchase Necessary. Details Inside."

Christmas lights frequently come with the covers all options disclaimer "For Indoor or Outdoor Use Only."

A package of tiramisu was apparently somewhat fragile because it included the warning "Do Not Turn Upside Down." Unfortunately, the warning was stamped on the bottom of the package!

Inside a television was a warning: "Electric Shock, Do Not Open."

Some came with obvious translation "issues."

A Japanese built food process was "Not To Be Used for Any Other Use."

A Korean kitchen knife alerted "Warning: Keep Out Of Children."

Since I have a five-year-old at home, that was particularly helpful advice. As was the warning on a child's superman costume: "Wearing Of This Garment Does Not Enable You To Fly."

I'm sure that one was the result of a settlement in a lawsuit at some point. As were the disclaimers on an inflatable fish that we once bought our son "Not To Be Used As A Coast Guard Approved Floatation Device."

And as was - no doubt - a similar warning on a package of birthday balloons: "Do Not Fill With Water And Swallow."

And yet another lawsuit must have inspired a warning on a bottle of drain opener "Do Not Reuse The Bottle To Store Beverages."

Sometimes the warnings give a little too much information.

A bath and body spray is for "Adult External Use Only."

A toilet bowl cleaner is "Safe To Use Around Pets And Children; Although It Is Recommended That Neither Be Allowed to Drink From The Bowl."

A portable electric drill is "Not Intended for Use As A Dental Drill."

A vacuum food sealer: "Warning: Do Not Apply The Hose To Any Part Of The Body While The Vacuum Is In Operation."

Of course we are all familiar with the case where hot coffee from a fast food place spilled on someone's lap and - millions of dollars later - there are now warnings on fast food coffee cups that the coffee may "be hot."

Thank goodness there is also a corollary on "slushy" drinks: "Warning: The Ice In This Drink May Be Cold."

Then of course, there are the warnings that inspire more "well, duh" responses.

On a pack of matches: "Warning: Contents May Catch on Fire."

On an windshield sun visor: "Warning: Do Not Drive With Sunshade in Place."

On a lava lamp: "Warning: Do Not Ingest."

On a machete: "Caution: This Tool Could Cut."

On a bottle of cough syrup for ages 4 to 6: "Warning: Do Not Drive Or Operate Heavy Machinery After Taking This Medicine."

It's nice to know that the next time my five year old asks if he can "drive the car" I can say "Not until your cold medicine wears off, sweetie."


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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