January 14, 2004

This isn't poetry, this is abuse

Cursed as I am with the habits of a scholar, I actually read the little bits of paper and newsletters that arrive in the envelope with every bill I get, just in case I need to know anything that they tell me. With my latest mortgage bill I received a special extra slip of paper containing a poem called "What we can do for you!". It is so bad that readers of a delicate disposition may decide they don't want to look at it.

What we can do for you!

We can't cook your dinner
Or make all your beds
Or mow your tall grass
Or scrub your kids' heads.

We can't clean your garage
Or paint your front stoop
Or fix your computer
Or scoop your dog's poop.

Though we can't help with these things
You must understand
We can offer you something...
Something quite grand!

We can offer you home loans
That meet every need,
At competitive rates
That can help you succeed.

New purchase, refinance,
Home equity loan,
Need help? We'll be here
Online or by phone.

We can give you great service,
Never settle for less,
We're here when you need us,
That's... The Power of Yes.®

Astoundingly, they have not only registered the phrase "The Power of Yes" as a trademark, but also copyrighted the whole of this drivel (© 2003 by my mortgage company [I pay them the courtesy of not naming them], all rights reserved), as if someone might try to steal it!

(By the way, you may be thinking that in light of this fact I shouldn't be putting it on a web page like this. You're wrong. I am a qualified linguistic professional. All of us are, here at Language Log. We can cite material for purposes of study or exemplification or derision, and it counts as fair use. As a linguist, you see, I have special rights to do things with linguistic material that ordinary people cannot do. I'm really like a doctor. Take off your clothes and lie down.)

What on earth is my mortgage company thinking of, paying someone to compose this doggerel, paying registration and copyright fees, and printing thousands of copies on glossy paper, and sending it to me? I'm already a loan customer; do they think they will earn extra money off my loan if I come to have a higher opinion of them? Do they think that sending me six stanzas of unspeakable slop will cause me to have a higher opinion of them? Are they flaming nuts?

And shouldn't it be illegal to expose people to poetry this bad without their consent? Bad poetry can be really harmful. Take Vogon poetry, for example (it is the third worst in the world according to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). It is well known that Vogon poetry has been used as torture. This is unethical. Unrequested exposure to execrable poetry should be made illegal. We need a campaign to stop mortgage companies and all other commercial concerns from continuing with this cruel practice. Perhaps the BBC's robot mechanism for emailing randomly generated Vogon poems could be used to give the company in question a taste of their own medicine. Unfortunately, they do not seem to have supplied me with their email address.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 14, 2004 04:22 PM