Advice on traffic lights Tonight I shall tell a story from my American period. I have a good friend in Chicago who worked with me in Bogotá, Chicago and Houston. He comes from a small mid-west town on the Great Plains in west Kansas near the Colorado border. Hicksville basically. The town has a bar and pool table, a 24 by 7 convenience store, the church and not much else. His father is a farmer and will never retire. He will just pass away whilst ploughing one day. My friend Steve passed a few exams and escaped to the big wide world. He tells this story about traffic lights in his home town. The town had one set of traffic lights where two roads crossed at the east end of town. The residents thought another set would increase the status of their town, slow down through traffic and encourage cars to stop off. They applied to have another set erected at the western end. A state official came to town surveyed the scene and set up traffic monitoring. Six months later the town were informed about their application. Instead of getting approval for their second set of lights, the state ordered the removal of their one set. So my advice tonight is this. If you live in a one traffic light kind of town don’t push the boat out too far. You may lose your only set of lights and become no traffic light town. Final toast : Kansas, Rotary International and Rotarians world-wide.
Advice about the importance of good grammar; the Oxford comma There is some evidence that schools are placing less importance on ensuring our children understand English grammar. I remember my recent experience in first year Spanish at Stirling University, when the Scottish first years needed the teacher of Spanish to halt the lesson to explain English grammar components before they could relate to the grammar of the Spanish language. The use of punctuation is also under threat. Apostrophes, commas and Capital letters are disappearing as Whatsapp and emojis becomes the prime means of written conversation. On the radio this week there was an item about a man who goes out at night with his ladder and paint brush to correct grammatical errors on shop signs. Joes Fish and Chip Shop wakes up the next morning relieved to have finally got its apostrophe. Tonight’s advice relates specifically to the Oxford comma. I am sure this audience know about this key grammatical construct. However for those of you who were off sick the day the English teacher covered this topic, I shall briefly describe it. Essentially the Oxford comma is placed before an ‘and’ or an ‘or’ (usually at the end of a list) where otherwise the meaning could be ambiguous. The lack of an Oxford comma proved to be expensive for a company which employed policy writers who did not appreciate its significance. Five Maine truck drivers, who claimed they had been wrongly denied overtime payments by a dairy company, won their case. The policy stated that “the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution” of agricultural produce; did not qualify for overtime rates. The truckers argued that they did not pack food for shipment or distribution. We just drive it to where it needs to go, and if that takes us more than 40 hours a week, you have to pay us overtime. Clearly without the comma the sentence is ambiguous packing for shipment or distribution does not include distribution as a separate activity without the vital comma. So tonight’s advice is, take care with punctuation; a missing comma can be expensive.