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Interesting take from Geoff Pullum at Language Log:

"For external use only", it says on many poisonous ointments and other medicinal products that should not be orally consumed. But, the naive patient might ask, external to what? Is it all right to eat the product if I step outside the building? This is another case of nerdview, you know. The person who draws a distinction between internal medicine and external medicine is the doctor, not you or me. If saving the patient from eating menthol crystals or drinking rubbing alcohol is what they have in mind, why on earth don't they simply say "Don't eat this" or "Not for drinking"? It is because (and I answer my own question here) they have not switched out of the doctor's-eye view and considered what things are like from the patient's perspective.


Problem with writing instruction labels is if the negative is stated – Do Not Drink – some do not read it but as ‘Drink’. If you write ‘Does Not Contain Salt’ some will say it contains salt. That’s why it’s better to write (and the company’s lawyers will agree) ‘Salt Free’. Or ‘External Use Only’.

I think Geoff is wrong and labeling is not doctor centric as much as it is understanding that few read the instruction and, of those who do, there’s a percentage that will totally misunderstand unless put definitively.

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