This year the summer school booking was slow to get going, but now we’re fully booked, with the usual interesting mix of people with different interests and backgrounds. We’re really looking forward to it, as always – get in touch if you’d like to ask about 2018… it will almost certainly be in the same place and time (3-7 September 2018).
We’ve just published the report from our latest Simple Action day on instructions for overdose emergency kits. See this earlier blog post for the background. We had a great day critiquing one of the emergency kits available in the UK, and developing ideas.
The day was organised by Stephanie VandenBerg and Rob Waller, and other people taking part were Daniel Alford, John Alexander, David Dickinson, Tomoko Furukawa, Pat Kahn, Sol Kawage, Shannon Lattin, Suki Law, Eleanor Smith, Conrad Taylor, and Dhanika Vansia. We were also grateful for expert advice from Martin McCusker, a member of the Lambeth Service User Council and the International Network of People Who Use Drugs.
A version of this report will be published in a special issue of Information Design Journal later in the year.
The Oxford comma, or serial comma, is a comma inserted in a list before the final ‘and’ or ‘or’:
‘Apples, oranges, bananas, and pears’ has a serial comma. ‘Apples, oranges, bananas and pears’ does not.
It can seem like one of those punctuation pedantries which does not matter in real life, but it’s recently appeared in a court case in the USA. There’s a law in Maine which states that if work connected with perishable food takes extra time, overtime is not payable. Presumably this is because the work cannot be delayed until the next day and employers need certainty over costs.
A dairy has been successfully sued by its drivers because of the lack of a serial comma in the following statement. The exemption to the overtime rules, according to the Maine law, applies to:
The intention appears to have been that ‘shipment or distribution’ represented two items in the list: that is ‘packing for shipment’ and ‘distribution’ are separate activities and both are ineligible for overtime payments.
The drivers contended, though, that it was a single item ‘packing for shipment or distribution’, and therefore that it was ‘packing’ that was exempt from overtime, not distribution (which is what drivers do).
The appeal court agreed with the drivers and you can read the judgement here: http://media.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/16-1901P-01A.pdf
What’s not clear to me is how long this law has been operation, and what the practice has actually been up to now – has overtime never been paid, but a clever lawyer has spotted the absence of a comma? Or is this a new thing and the drivers genuinely thought their understanding was shared by the drafters of the statute?
The problem with punctuation (and why, it is sometimes suggested, lawyers traditionally don’t like it) is that an awful lot hangs on a small smudge on the page.
So how about a more graphic solution. This is what the drivers thought it meant:
This is what the employers thought:
Another argument for visualisation in legal drafting.