Thursday, January 6, 2011

Waterboarding the English language

Last week, I received an emergency story assignment from one of my longtime editors who was heading out the door for vacation. I needed to get a short quote from a few different sources for a piece about improving your finances in the coming year. Easy peasy.

I was reminded, in the process, that our country is litigating itself into oblivion.

I'm accustomed to running quotes by my sources, though there are reasons why I won't show someone the entire story. That said, this particular situation was truly a stunner. One of my sources gave me a two-sentence quote of fairly standard financial advice that needed approval from her compliance department. As it happens, she had received an honor in 2010 as one of the country's top 100 women in her field, and I wanted to mention that as a way of boosting her credentials. The compliance department said that was fine, as long as I included the following disclaimer:
"Source: Magazine X's Top 100 Women [in her field], [month/date], as identified by Magazine X, using quantitative and qualitative criteria and selected from a pool of over 450 nominations. [People] in the Top 100 Women [in her field] have a minimum of seven years of [experience] and [seriously large amount of money that they manage]. Qualitative factors include, but are not limited to, compliance record, interviews with senior management and philanthropic work. [Specific performance] is not a criterion. The rating may not be representative of any one client's experience and is not indicative of the [specific job title's] future performance. Neither [the source's company] nor its [people in the same job as my source] pay a fee to Magazine X in exchange for the rating. Magazine X is a registered trademark of the [even bigger publishing conglomerate name]. All rights reserved."
In case you're not counting, that's about 150 words to disclaim a 8-word phrase that stated a simple fact that someone had received an industry honor.

How, exactly, those bon mots of legalese would prevent anyone making a foolish decision with his or her money, I am not sure. But, what I *am* confident of is that this little exercise in the waterboarding of the English language — not to mention common sense — surely cost the interviewee's company several hundred dollars in legal fees.

Fees which the parent company eventually charges as fees to its customers, making life more expensive and retirement ever more elusive...and proving that our lawyer-legislators are ignorant, above all, of The Law of Unintended Consequences.

1 comment:

  1. I hate that type of compliance B.S. It's a waste of time.