Funny You Should Say That! Thanks, But No Thanks
The dangers of junk mail.
By John Cadley
Anyone who doubts the evocative power of words should open a piece of junk mail and read the headline: Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance.
If that doesn’t ruin your day, nothing will.
I understand that we must all plan for the hour when we shuffle off this mortal coil. But do they have to be so graphic? It’s like seeing lobster described on a menu as “innocent, law-abiding crustacean boiled alive for your dining pleasure.”
Linguistically, it takes you from bad to really bad to just disgusting. Accidents? I try to avoid them. Death? Not right now, thanks. Dismemberment? Isn’t that what they did to heretics in the Middle Ages?
Surely, there was a better way to get my attention. For starters, did they have to put “and” between the death and the dismemberment? Shouldn’t it have been Accidental Death or Dismemberment? Can I at least have a choice? Does it have to be both? It makes me feel like even after I die there won’t be enough left to bury.
Then there’s “accidental.” Is there any “accidental death” you can think of that you’d want to think of? I can only think of one and it can’t be printed in a family magazine.
And that other word. I can hardly even write it. Dismemberment. Yuck! All I can think of is one of those grotesque, medieval here’s-what-happens-to-bad-people paintings by Hieronymus Bosch.
Adding insult to injury, the letter is written with a warm, solicitous tone designed to make me feel like a group of actuarial wonks is getting sentimental about all the horrific ways I could have a really, really bad day. They address me as a “valued customer” and offer to pay for a basic $3,000 policy themselves. Excuse me? $3,000?! That’s how much I’m “valued”? In other words, they think compensating me for loss of life and/or limb is roughly equivalent to replacing a riding lawn mower. They even offer me family coverage. It isn’t bad enough contemplating my own gruesome end. Now they’ve got my whole family going over a cliff.
Then there are the exclusions. One is “declared or undeclared war.” The “declared” part I get. If you knowingly participate in war your death won’t be an accident and dismemberment is pretty much a foregone conclusion. But if it’s an undeclared war, how do you know it’s even a war? Maybe it’s just a “When Wives Meet Mistresses” segment on The Jerry Springer Show.
Participating in riots is out, too. So if I get caught in the parking lot at Wal-Mart during a two-for-one sale, I’m on my own. I also can’t be drunk or flying an aircraft, and certainly not both at the same time.
Another exclusion is “sickness, including bacterial infection except through a wound accidentally sustained, or its medical or surgical treatment, including diagnosis.”
If I understand that correctly – and that’s a pretty big “if” – it means: I can’t get sick and die because that wouldn’t be considered accidental, although I don’t know of too many people who get sick on purpose, especially that sick. If I get wounded accidentally and the wound gets infected accidentally, it’s not an accident. And if I die because my treatment was bad, or my wound was misdiagnosed, I apparently deserve what I get for choosing such bad medical care. Perhaps they assume I’ll sue and get my money that way, but how can you sue when you’re…never mind.
Oh yes – and in the small print at the bottom they add, “NOT FDIC INSURED. NOT INSURED BY ANY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY. NOT GUARANTEED BY A BANK.” Which seems to mean that even if I do meet their Rubik’s cube of requirements, they may or may not have the money to pay up when the time comes. Is this an insurance policy or a ransom note?
I feel like writing to these people and saying, “I’m already covered for something like this. It’s called life insurance. I like that word a whole lot better than ‘death,’ and way better than ‘dismemberment.’ The people who sold me that policy understand that nobody wants to think about The End, so they let me keep my precious illusion of immortality. You have failed to recognize this basic sales technique and have only succeeded in scaring me halfway to the place your policy assumes I’m going. And for that reason you will not get my business. Life insurance, yes. Accidental death and dismemberment? No, but thanks for the offer.”
John Cadley is an advertising copywriter for an agency in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.