My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Contents may catch fire

We've got this bottle of whiteout in the drawer at the front desk of the art gallery. Regular whiteout or whatnot. I was bored one day and read the tiny printing on the back of the label. After resting my eyes from the strain of trying to read the subatomic type, I considered the implications of this warning: "Contents may catch fire." :huh:

It's very ambiguous. What do they mean, "contents may catch fire?" So this liquid might just decide to spontaneously combust while it's sitting in the drawer? o_O Or does it mean that if I expose it to a heat source then the contents might catch fire, but on the other hand, they might not. I half-expected the brand name to be Schrodinger's Whiteout.

I could expand my reading of the label to create even more interpretations. For instance, prior to the warning about quantum flammability, it says, "Keep out of reach of children". Let's concatenate that. "Keep out of reach of children; contents may catch fire." Let me get this straight: the whiteout company is implying that today's average child is some sort of pyromaniac who will light whiteout on fire at any chance he or she gets? That's kind of cynical. Not to mention just mean. Or are they saying that they've engineered the whiteout so that if a child touches it, the whiteout will burst into flames?!

There's a moral to be learned in all this: be careful how you label things. People might mistake them for soup cans, or thought experiments, or Danish philosophers. When you put something to text, make sure you know what you want to say, and communicate that clearly. Because sometimes a child's life may depend on it!