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When I was young, a teacher taught us about the importance of commas with a story in Spanish:

“Once upon a time, a prisoner who was about to be executed asked the king for a commutation. The king heard him out but decided he should be punished for his crimes. He wrote his decision on a board that the prisoner was to deliver to his executioner. It read: “Perdón imposible, ejecutar,” (or in English “No pardon, execute him”). But on his way to the scaffold, the prisoner, who knew a great deal about grammar and spelling, rubbed the comma off with a bit of spit. With the remains of the ink on his thumb, he changed the location of the comma. When he was finally escorted to his date with the executioner, he delivered the royal verdict with a big smile on his face. The executioner released him from his shackles upon reading: “Perdón, imposible ejecutar,” or in English, “Pardoned, no execution.”

It seems like a few truckers in Maine must have heard this story as well: they recently sued a dairy to demand overtime pay – and won! Apparently, state law states that the following job categories are exempt from overtime pay: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.” So… what’s the problem? That, as truckers, they distribute but don’t pack the goods, and since there is no comma after “shipment”, what is understood is that packing is a job exempt from overtime pay, not distribution.

We’re not sure if their bosses are too happy about the situation, but my teacher sure would be!


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