We appear to be living in the age of the disclaimer. Lately, I’ve been noticing these things everywhere and not I’m not just talking about the meaningless gumph that every e-mail grudgingly drags along behind it. For example, “Only effective as part of a kilojoule-controlled diet“, is pretty much standard equipment on any weight-loss product. A trip to the movies armed with your two-for-one membership card invariably falls foul of the “does not apply to new releases or any movie you particularly want to see” stipulation.
Warning labels fall into a whole category on their own. “Brandishing your screwdriver meaningfully near this product can cause SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH!” is the usual warning on most electronic equipment. The jar of peanut butter emblazoned with the dire caution, “Warning: produced in a factory that processes nut products” remains a firm favourite of mine. The fundamental difference between a warning label and a disclaimer (other than the obvious entertainment value) is the hope that people will read the former, but not the latter.
“It’s so underhanded”, I found myself thinking. Then it occurred to me that disclaimerspeak is actually a less dishonest form of communication than normal, day-to-day conversation. People hardly ever say what they really mean. One has only to read a small sample of the lamentations being poured into blogspace to realise how true this is. We would take a great step forward in the field of human understanding if we could add disclaimers to everyday speech.
To illustrate: “I love you. Disclaimer: only applicable until my erection subsides” or “Yes. Disclaimer: this statement is subject to the limitation that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time“.