I recently brought an eyeglasses prescription to a “vision center” that was advertising a $99 spectacles special and was surprised when the sales clerk said, “Sir, that price is for a limited selection of frames and does not include bifocals or scratch-proof lenses. Didn’t you read the fine print in the ad?”

“If I could have read the fine print I wouldn’t need new glasses,” I replied. “I thought those little black marks on the bottom of the page were some sort of decoration.”

Fine print or “mouse print”is a sales gimmick relying on a consumer’s reluctance to read large paragraphs resembling fly specks that are full of disclaimers and warnings. I’ve heard this skulduggery has been ruled legal under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. It sounds more like “freewheeling” speech.

The worst examples of this gimmickry are the auto ads on TV that include a dozen lines of fine print that are on the screen for only a few seconds, a daunting challenge for the speediest of speed readers.

There’s the story, probably apocryphal, about the movie theater ad offering free admission to patrons over 65 years of age. The fine print included the provision, “If accompanied by their parents.” Even if those parents were still ambulatory, their parents would not be available and the oldsters would have to pay full price. It sounds like a clever ploy unless some wise guy shows up at the box office carrying two urns labeled “Mom” and “Dad”.

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