If we cannot produce grammatically correct posters, then what hope do we have of defeating terrorism?
Letter to the editor, The Independent
In response to the Madrid train bombings
, a series of posters were plastered in the London Underground
to encourage the public to be aware of possible threats. On one poster a young woman is depicted noticing a suspicious looking bag
in a train carriage, and the picture is accompanied with this caption
Don't touch, check with other passengers, inform station staff or dial 999
It wasn't long before the grammitarians amongst London's commuter classes noticed the glaring mistake, assuming that it wasn't government policy to tell the public to ignore the threat of terrorism. The words may as well have been the kind of verbatim instructions terrorists would give to their cowed hostages, along with the no longer reassuring shibboleth Just keep quiet and everything will be alright. Others may have wondered what kind of communication specialists Ken Livingstone have on staff.
This led to a debate, not just amongst bored commuters on the Piccadilly line, but also amongst Internet users at home with even more valueless time on their hands, over what the correct punctuation should be. Most people agreed that commas sequence related items, and so something else should be used to separate things you should and shouldn't do, assuming:
-(a, b, c, d) ≠ -(a) + (b, c, d)
Usingenglish.com ran a poll and 62% of respondents said the first comma should be replaced with a full stop
. 19% would have used an em dash
, 14% a semi-colon
were happy with the comma