Warning: This Column May Contain…

I don't know about you, but I'm very fond of labels. I like the labels on my spice bottles which help to take at least part of the nasty surprise element out of my cooking. I like the labels on my storage boxes, which reduces the amount of time I spend searching for the Christmas decorations to about three and a half days. I also like the labels on my CD-ROMS which help me work out which software programs I just erased.

I'm especially fond of warning labels on food. This is not because I want to know how many calories I'm about to consume — that just spoils the taste of the chocolate. But I do need to read the list of ingredients and the warnings as I have a severe allergy. Plus warning labels can be funny.

For example, I once picked up a bag of peanuts that said, “Warning: May contain nuts.” Then, according to the M-Law society's annual wacky label contest, there are the fishing lures that say, “Warning: Harmful if swallowed.” Or there's a bottle of drain cleaner that cautions: “If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product.”

What I don't like about warnings though, is the fact that there are never any on things that really, really need them. For instance:

Other cars on the road: Labels here would include:

Warning — I change lanes without signalling;

Caution — I will wait until there's only twenty feet of clearance before attempting to overtake you on the wrong side; and

Beware — I am not sure what any of these weird traffic signs mean.

Telephone calls:

Attention — The call you are about to take is from a telemarketer who does not understand the meaning of “No thank you.”

Door bells: Caution — The person you are about to greet is a door-to-door salesperson who does not understand the meaning of “No thank you.” Furthermore, he has steel sided shoes to use as a door stop.

Day Planner: Beware — The committee meeting you're about to attend will last three hours and accomplish exactly nothing.

Train/Plane/Bus: Please Note — The schedules shown here are approximations; the routes described here are just guidelines. Actual departure and arrival times may vary by up to 24 hours and destinations are subject to change without notice. Don't even ask us about your luggage.

Utility Hook-Up: Caveat — When we say we'll show up on Monday, between 1 and 5 p.m., we actually mean Saturday at about 6:30 a.m.

Bank Statements: Attention — Balance shown will be less than what you were hoping it would be.

Car Ads: Smart car buyers read the fine print — because everything we said in this ad was just a come on. We don't even include the chassis as standard on that car we pictured.

Movies: Caution — The rating system now means absolutely nothing because even G-Rated movies clearly intended for children have adult jokes in them. This will lead to all kinds of uncomfortable moments when your children ask you to explain them.

Prescriptions: Warning — Even if you take exactly as directed, you may experience side-effects that your doctor forgot to mention. These could include large, unsightly hives on the day of your big presentation, or extreme nausea and vomiting right after you've eaten a meal prepared by your easily offended and touchy mother-in-law.

Utility Bill: Attention — Balance shown will be higher than what you were hoping it would be.

Weather Report: Please Note — This prediction should be considered a guideline only. Actual temperature may vary up to thirty degrees either way, usually in the opposite direction to the way you are dressed.

Warning Labels: Warning — The warnings on this package should be considered warnings and not Warnings. There. You've been warned.

To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.

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