I got a thick envelope this week from the mortgage lender that now owns my house. As I glanced through several pages about disclosures and RESPA requirements, a sentence at the top of the last page caught my eye.
You do not need to notify us if you decide not to opt out.
I make my living parsing sentences; I translate jargon into common English, reset fractured syntax, and mend malapropisms. After three decades as an editor, I’ve become quite skilled at divining an author’s intended meaning, even if I have to pull a sentence apart word by word to find it.
But after reading this sentence multiple times, I’m still not entirely sure I know what it means. The less-than-helpful instructions relate to the mortgage lender’s privacy policies. I THINK I understand this to mean that if I fill out some papers and mail them back, then the lender can’t share my information willy-nilly. And I THINK it means they can do whatever they please with everything they know about me if I don’t mail back the papers. But I am CERTAIN that the lender would prefer me to do nothing at all, which is why they have crafted this sentence to be as confusing as possible.
I spend my time as an editor choosing just the right word, setting up the perfect sentence structure, smoothing out rough spots where readers could get bounced out of the text or tripped up by confusing phrases.
And I have to tip my hat to the writers at Vericrest Financial. Because there is no way a sentence that confusing just “happens.” Every word was carefully chosen and precisely placed so that the lender has fulfilled its legal obligation to inform customers of their privacy rights–but made it far more likely that customers will just toss the papers aside rather than claiming those rights.
Language can be crafted to obscure just as much as it can be used to illuminate. Vericrest Financial proves it.