8 Excessively Cautious Consumer Safety Warnings

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Earlier this year, consumers were reminded of the necessity of issuing stern and obvious warnings about misapplication of common household items. That’s when children around the country were getting sick in increasing numbers after biting into Tide Pods, the globs of laundry detergent that became a test of an adolescent’s gastronomic courage. Both Procter & Gamble, makers of the pods, and consumer agencies warned against the practice, adding to a long list of cautions issued by manufacturers and state or federal agencies over the years.

Ironically, plastering warnings over everything may actually make us less safe, as consumers tend to overlook the risk of handling truly dangerous items while under the deluge of cautions. Have a look at some of the more perplexing products that have had to explain to consumers what not to do with them.

1. DON’T BURN CHARCOAL INDOORS.

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If a manufacturer doesn’t feel the need to caution consumers about misuse of their product, various consumer advocates can step in. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) can mandate warning labels where necessary. In the 1990s, their concern was aimed at bags of charcoal, which were required to warn users not to burn the item indoors. The resulting smoke and lack of ventilation can, of course, cause death. In 2006, former CPSC executive director Pamela Gilbert told The Seattle Times that the warning—which came in the form of an illustrated man burning charcoal indoors with a line over it to indicate it was a bad idea—was the result of people not realizing it was an unsafe practice. “A lot of people were bringing [charcoal grills] indoors to keep their families warm,” Gilbert said. Today, charcoal distributors like Kingsford warn consumers to “never barbeque indoors.”

2. DON’T REUSE CONDOMS.

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Even the most sexually inexperienced among us can likely manage to open and don a prophylactic to reduce the chances of disease transmission. However, not all of us appear to be capable of throwing it out after it has served its single-use purpose. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an alert reminding people that condoms cannot be washed and saved for future application. In addition to being absolutely disgusting, recycling condoms can increase the likelihood of breakage—soap weakens latex—and risks re-exposure to infectious materials present on the surface. “We say it because people do it,” the CDC tweeted. Who admitted to this and how remains a mystery.

3. DON’T CONSUME THE IPOD SHUFFLE.

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Do you like to eat your expensive electronics devices? You might have pica, or the urge to devour the inedible. That may have been on Apple’s mind when their legal department decided to urge buyers of their iPod Shuffle not to swallow the unit. Measuring just 1.8 inches by 0.7 inches and weighing .38 ounces, the music player was apparently small enough to be considered a choking hazard. Intrigued by the prospect, Gizmodo asked sword swallower Heather Holliday to attempt to swallow the device in 2009. It proved virtually impossible, as the iPod was too light to force down with her esophageal muscles and too unwieldy to gulp by accident.

4. THE HAIR DRYER SCOURGE.

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Hair dryers have long been the most maligned of small appliances, with cord labels admonishing users not to use while bathing or sleeping. Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit that tests products and recommends safety standards for manufacturers, told The New York Times in 1988 that such tags were needed because most polled adults believed that hair dryers were safe to leave near water, even if they were plugged in, as long as they were turned off. (This is not the case.) Roughly 110 deaths and 50 injuries were reported between 1977 and 1982 as a result of consumers knocking the dryers into standing water. Thanks to the warnings and improved safety measures—like a switch cutting power once the appliance is immersed—the mortality rate of blow-dried victims fell to just one in 2000.

5. A FEDERAL WARNING TO STOP READING KIDS’ BOOKS.

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The boogey-mineral of our times, lead has long occupied the attention of consumer advocate agencies. (Ingestion during childhood has been associated with neurological issues.) That concern stretched to the banning of lead in printing ink in 1986 and later extended to a nationwide word of caution from the CPSC in 2009 that librarians and parents should try to keep books printed prior to the ban out of the hands of children. Tots gumming the affected books could, conceivably, ingest the lead in the ink. The CPSC later walked back their comments, while the Centers for Disease Control estimated that a kid ingesting part of The Cat in the Hat was “like a 0.5 level of concern” on a scale of one to 10.

6. A TOY CAPE DOES NOT ENABLE YOU TO FLY.

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Children can often have a gross misunderstanding of consequences. But has a child ever been so lost in the grip of fantasy that they’ve scaled a building and jumped off on the assumption that a superhero costume would give them the ability to fly? Apparently, toy industry lawyers believed so. In 1997, The New York Times observed that a Batman play costume came with the following warning: “FOR PLAY ONLY: Mask and chest plate are not protective; cape does not enable user to fly.”

7. THE SUPER SLED THAT MAIMS.

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Personal injury cases can frighten corporate attorneys to the point where they will leave nothing open to chance. While marketing their Snow Works Super Boggan sled in 1997, Empire Industries opted to put so many warning labels on the sled that they practically obscured the item itself. Among the cautions: always wear a helmet; don’t allow more than three riders; don’t ride on your stomach; avoid obstacles; don’t use near streets. Most importantly, be aware that “this product does not have brakes.” Empire Industries senior vice president Howard Younger told The New York Times that the warnings were generated after studying sled-related accident statistics.

8. THE SERIOUS RISK OF KEYBOARDS.

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During the personal computing explosion of the early 1990s, consumers were apparently caught unaware of the significant health hazards posed by keyboards. Too much typing led to repetitive strain injuries and soft-tissue swelling, prompting some people to file lawsuits against manufacturers like Compaq. To stave off litigation, Compaq and Microsoft added warnings to their keyboards in 1994, directing users to review their safety and comfort instructional manual. Later, concern turned to keyboard cleaners—those cans of compressed air marketed as a way to blow out crumbs and other debris. Teenagers huffed the inhalant in a practice called “dusting,” forcing Dust-Off to increase the size of its product label warning.

In some cases, lying works just as well. When attorney Victor Schwartz was asked to try and remedy household cleaner inhalant injury claims in the 1980s, he decided not to enlarge the warning, which might make kids believe there was more propellant in the can. Instead, he directed manufacturers to say that misuse could cause facial disfigurement. Kids stopped huffing the products.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

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Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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10 Words and Phrases That Came From TV Shows

Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.

Television can be a hotbed of creativity (or mediocrity, depending on who you ask). But it's not just characters and storylines writers are coming up with—they also coin words. Here are 10 surprising words that were invented thanks to TV.

1. Poindexter

While this term for a studious nerd might seem very 1980s, it actually comes from a cartoon character introduced on TV in 1959. In the series Felix the Cat, Poindexter is the feline’s bespectacled, genius nephew, supposedly named for Emmet Poindexter, the series creator’s lawyer.

2. Eye Candy

This phrase meaning a thing or person that offers visual appeal but not much substance originally referred to such a feature of a TV program. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), it first appeared in 1978 issue of a Louisiana newspaper called The Hammond Daily Star: “Sex … is more blatant ... ‘Eye candy,' as one network executive calls it.” Ear candy is slightly earlier, from the title of a 1977 album by Helen Reddy, while arm candy is later, from 1992.

3. Ribbit

Think frogs have always been known to say “ribbit”? Think again: According to the OED, this onomatopoeia might have originated on a TV show in the late-1960s. While we can’t say for sure that absolutely no one was making this frog sound before then, the earliest recorded usage found so far (according to linguist Ben Zimmer) is from a 1965 episode of Gilligan’s Island, in which Mel Blanc voiced a character called Ribbit the Frog. This predates the OED’s earliest entry, which is from a 1968 episode of the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour: “That’s right. Ribit! .. I am a frog.”

4. Sorry About That

You've probably used this expression of regret more than once in your life, but did you know it was popularized by Get Smart? It's one of the many catchphrases from the late 1960s TV show. Others include “missed it by that much” and “the old (so-and-so) trick.”

5. Cromulent

Cromulent is a perfectly cromulent word, as far as the OED is concerned. This adjective invented on The Simpsons means “acceptable, adequate, satisfactory.” Other OED words the denizens of Springfield popularized are meh (perhaps influenced by the Yiddish “me,” meaning “be it as it may, so-so,” from 1928 or earlier), d’oh (the earliest recorded usage is from a 1945 British radio show), and embiggen, which first appeared in an 1884 publication by English publisher George Bell: “Are there not, however, barbarous verbs in all languages? … The people magnified them, to make great or embiggen, if we may invent an English parallel as ugly.”

6. Five-O

The OED’s earliest citation of this slang term for the police is from a 1983 article in The New York Times, although it was probably in use long before that. The moniker comes from Hawaii Five-O, which premiered in 1968. In the show, five-o refers to a particular police unit and apparently was named in honor of Hawaii being the 50th state.

7. Gomer

While the word gomer has been around since the year 1000 (referring to a Hebrew unit of measure), the sense of someone stupid or inept comes from the inept titular character in the 1960s show Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. It’s also a derogatory name among medical professionals for a difficult patient, especially an elderly one.

8. Cowabunga

Sure, the 1960s surfing slang might have regained popularity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s due to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, but it originated way before then. Chief Thunderthud, a character on the 1950s children’s show Howdy Doody would use it as faux Native American language. After that, it somehow made its way into surfer slang, hence becoming a catchphrase of Michelangelo, the hard-partying, surfing ninja turtle.

9. Har De Har

The next time you want to laugh in a sarcastic, old-timey way, thank Jackie Gleason for popularizing har de har via his iconic 1950s show, The Honeymooners.

10. Spam

So how in the world did spam, originally the name of a canned ham, come to mean junk email or to inundate with junk emails or postings? Chalk it up to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The food Spam (which stands for either “spiced ham” or “shoulder of pork and ham”) was invented during the Great Depression in the late 1930s. Fast-forward 40-some-odd years and the British sketch comics were singing incessantly about it. This apparently was the inspiration for the computer slang that came about in the early 1990s.