Had my husband not read the back of his stick deodorant, he might have continued his life journey unaware of atomic robots and masculine scent elves.

Had my husband not read the back of his stick deodorant, he might have continued his life journey unaware of atomic robots and masculine scent elves.

He might have been just as happy, too, but that's beside the point.

As it happens, he glanced at the back of his almost-empty Old Spice container, expecting to see words such as dipropylene glycol and sodium stearate, but instead, he saw this:

"Contains odor-fighting 'atomic robots' that 'shoot lasers' at your 'stench monsters' and replaces them with fresh, clean, masculine 'scent elves.' "

The single quote marks are all theirs, I want to say right off.

I suppose they represent the writers' attempt to wink at customers, thus making readers complicit in the joke. Still, they don't belong. Quote marks scattered like grass seed hardly ever do.

But about the paragraph itself: Seeing it on the details side of a drugstore product has caused both my husband and me to question nearly everything we once took for granted: Science. The Consumers Union. Truth in advertising.

The people at Procter & Gamble whose job it is to proofread product containers before they're loaded onto trucks.

Perhaps assuming that such people exist is assuming too much. We've been struggling through an economic downturn, and although I for one think the economy is finally headed in the right direction, it's possible that no one has been editing P&G product labels since early 2008.

It's possible, too, that the college valedictorians hired to write such prose as "Pure Sport High Endurance Deodorant" got a little silly one day.

Maybe it was Friday afternoon.

It doesn't matter now, of course. All that matters now is what the people at P&G plan to do about this fey description of poor Old Spice.

Will they defend the stench monsters and the scent elves with all that they are and all that they have?

Will they bring out their crisis management team, armed with charts, graphs and PowerPoints showing the ratio of robots to monsters and monsters to elves?

Or will someone designated by upper-level P&G suits face the bank of reporters, microphones and cameras to explain that these four lines of copy should not have been allowed to leave the factory? I can hear a quasi-apology now: "If some of our customers are offended by the words inadvertently printed on our Old Spice containers, we're sorry," the spokesperson might say.

To be honest, I'm not offended. I'm surprised, puzzled and confused.

I'm even amused, as I'm sure I was supposed to be, but offended? Nah.

I do get a little funny around the mouth when apologies sound like accusations, though: "If some of our customers (are so uptight as to say they) are offended by the words inadvertently (mistakes happen!) printed on our Old Spice containers, we're sorry (you're such a grouch)." That's what many public apologies sound like to me.

So should P&G feel the need to explain anything, I suggest it man up and say "Holy smoke! Our faces are so red! That's why we're sending a big pile of money to the central Ohio person who -- ."

No. We wouldn't accept a reward even if one was offered. My husband was happy to read something ludicrous early in the morning, and of course I can't claim credit at all.

Besides, I'm sure this incident is no goof.

I think it's Procter & Gamble's deliberate attempt to set itself apart: Look! We invented scent elves!

Struggling actors who played Old Spice atomic robots and stench monsters in national television commercials probably have been pocketing residuals for months.

If the spots don't air during Jeopardy!, I wouldn't see them.

But that's OK, because I had the fun of reading the book, or rather, the plastic container. And I read on, too, all the way to tetrasodium edta, which looked to me exactly like a word spelled backward.

Have you had your atde muidosartet today?