Who’s to blame if the chairs fall off the table? You are!
While we wait for the news department of this blog to get its act together, permit me to tell you about the warning label that I saw the other day stuck on the bottom of a restaurant chair.
This nonsensical bit of indemnification was a perfect, if slightly maddening, example of the butt-covering legalese that increasingly hides out of sight on the underside of everyday modern life.
A sign that a lawyer was hereabouts
The label on the bottom of the restaurant chair read as follows:
By placing this chair on the table you may cause damage to both the tables and chairs, and may void your warranty.”
It’s important to remember that this warning was affixed to the underside of a commercial-grade restaurant chair—a chair which, by its very nature, is destined to go up on a table when the time come to clean the floor of the restaurant.
The makers of the chair even worded the warning and placed it where they did with the clear expectation that it would be read by staff when the chair was turned upside down on a table.
This is not to make fun of safety warnings or to make light of chair-related mishaps and accidents, which are certainly no laughing matter.
The Albert Einstein College of Medicine (which declared earlier this year that peak human lifespans had been achieved) says that falls from chairs are one of the top causes of injury in the workplace—both while bending or reaching for something while seated in an unstable chair and when using a chair in place of a ladder.
However, it was no safety warning stuck to the bottom of this chair. It wasn’t cautioning people against doing something inappropriate and dangerous, like standing on the chair, but rather against doing what people normally do with restaurant chairs all over the world.
This warning can only be intended to prevent lawsuits and is what William Safire, the long-time political columnist for the New York Times, would have called a “C.Y.A.”
Safire, who had a passion for American English and who sadly passed away in 2009—wrote in 1987, in his New York Magazine column “On Language”, of a “C.Y.A.”, or “cover your ass” statement, as in: ”Isn’t this cable in effect a C.Y.A. cable?…They were covering their rear end back in Washington, weren’t they?”
Safire, in 1987, was writing about the Iran-contra hearings and meant C.Y.A. in the specific sense of a politician protecting himself or herself from possible criticism, legal penalties or other repercussions.
It’s not my fault that the buck is unstoppable
One could argue that in the wake of 9/11, a very frightened and newly risk-conscious world—egged on by its politicians and lawyers—began a preemptive war on risks both real and imagined, which continues to this day and includes sticking warning labels on simply everything and for any imaginable reason.
I could blame many things but I certainly wouldn’t blame myself. Click the images to enlarge them.