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Beware of the Literalists...

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Sometimes poor wording of adverts or a mistaken attempt to try to reduce the number of words will produce literalisms.

The best-known example is: For sale: chair by lady with cane bottom. ... er...does she have bamboo piles?

Here's one that comes from word rationing:

On a bottle of Safeway toilet cleaner: "Kills germs and freshens." What is a "freshen" and why would you want to kill it?

Possible alternative version: "Freshens and kills germs." Why would you want to freshen a germ and then kill it? Seems a bit of a waste. Adding the word "toilets" to the original version would spoil the fun but possibly the cost of the ink involved would seriously impact on the bottom line.

On the same bottle of toilet cleaner: If swallowed contact your nearest Doctor. OK if a Doctor has been swallowed with you.

Question: How can you prevent diseases caused by biting insects? Literalists reply: Don't bite any.

Safety notice on the back of the seats on a Buzz flight from Helsinki: "Fasten seat belt while seated". Have you any idea how hard it is to do standing up?

On a packet of salted nuts: Caution: This bag may contain nuts. Or not - depends on whether you've eaten them all.

In an article on the subject of high blood pressure:"Only a tiny amount of salt can raise blood pressure to a dangerous level. " That's all right then - I always have loads of salt.

The abbreviation of Health Warnings on Cigarette Packets can lead to some unexpected interpretations:

Smoking Seriously Damages Your Health So laugh when you smoke.

Smoking When Pregnant will harm your child So don't let her get pregnant

Smoking can damage the sperm Funny - I thought I had millions - now you are telling me I've just got the one? Strewth!!!

This could be a literalism (?) An executive was in a quandary. He had to get rid of one of his staff

He had narrowed it down to one of two people, Debra or Jack. It would be a hard decision to make, as they were both equally qualified and both did excellent work.

He finally decided that, in the morning, whichever one used the water cooler first would have to go. Debra came in the next morning, hugely hungover after partying all night. She went to the cooler to get some water to take an aspirin and the executive approached her and said: "Debra, I've never done this before, but I have to lay you or Jack off." Debra replied, "Could you jack off, I have a terrible headache".

Word rationing makes newspaper headlines a really rich field for literalisms. Here are a few examples:

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case

Iraqi Head Seeks Arms

Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead

Shot Off Woman's Leg Helps Nicklaus to 66

Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies

War Dims Hope for Peace

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Arson Suspect is Held in Massachusetts Fire

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

March Planned For Next August

Blind Bishop Appointed To See

Lingerie Shipment Hijacked--Thief Gives Police The Slip

L.A. Voters Approve Urban Renewal By Landslide

Patient At Death's Door--Doctors Pull Him Through

Latin Course To Be Canceled--No Interest Among Students, Et Al.

Diaper Market Bottoms Out

Croupiers On Strike--Management: "No Big Deal"

Stadium Air Conditioning Fails--Fans Protest

Queen Mary Having Bottom Scraped

Women's Movement to be More Broad-Based

Antique Stripper to Display Wares at Store

Prostitutes Appeal to Pope

Lawyers Give Poor Free Legal Advice

Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years

Autos Killing 110 a Day--Let's Resolve to Do Better

20-Year Friendship Ends at Altar

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last A While

Heat Wave Linked to Temperatures

Blind Woman Gets New Kidney from Dad She Hasn't Seen in Years

From the Parish Magazine:

I am indebted to my good friend ms Pudenda Browne for the following gems appearing in her local Parish Magazine:

This afternoon there will be a meeting in the South and North ends of the church. Children will be baptized at both ends.

Tuesday at 4 P.M. there will be an ice cream social. Will ladies giving milk, please come early.

Wednesday the Ladies Literary Society will meet. Mrs. Johns will sing "Put Me In My Little Bed" accompanied by the Pastor.

Thursday at 5 P.M. there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers Club. All wishing to become Little Mothers will please meet the Minister in his study.

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Jackson to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

The service will close with "Little Drops of Water." One of the ladies will start quietly and the rest of the congregation will join her.

On Sunday, a special collection will be taken to defray the expenses of the new carpeting. All wishing to do something on the carpet, please come forward and get a piece of paper.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

This evening at 7 P.M. there will be a hymn sing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

Its English, Jim, but not as we know it!

Literalists are people that take a sentence and, Spock-like take it literally.

Of course, there are sentences and sentences - some demand to be taken the wrong way....

Literalists Candi and Vince LoPesto - They take everything literally

Applying the Spock mindset to some advertising can be moderately entertaining and has given rise to some memorable graffiti on posters.

Here are some examples:

On a French health campaign poster on the Metro: Alcohol Kills slowly. So - whats the hurry?

Nothing works faster than Anadin. So - take nothing.

Roadsign in Kent, UK: "Dover for the Continent" Handwritten addition: "Ramsgate for the Incontinent"

Domestos kills 99 per cent of all known germs - dead. Er - does this mean that it doesn't kill them alive? - Er, if this is the case, are we saying that they have to be dead already before Domestos will kill them? So what is the point? What do all the other bleaches do? Please explain.

Sale Last Week. Well, call me picky but if it was last week why are you telling me now?

Groucho Marx was a bit of a Literalist - here are a couple of examples:

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. So just what are time flies and why do they like arrows?"

"One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas - how he got into my pajamas I'll never know."

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