Right aim, wrong target

For the best part of 35 years I earned my daily bread as a writer and latterly as a sub so, like JD and his fellow engine room denizens, I take the nuts and bolts of English pretty seriously. But there are limits.

Over the weekend my eyebrows went in search of a rapidly receding hairline as I read, in The Daily Telegraph, the story of a veteran Bournemouth taxi driver who was refused a new licence "because I don't know how to use an apostrophe or where to put a semi-colon".

As is so often the case, the licensing authority had the best of motives: the growing number of professional drivers with English as a second language has significant implications for road safety. Drivers must clearly be able read roadsigns and handle paperwork so it makes sense to include an English test in the licensing procedure.

The functionary charged with introducing the English test no doubt picked a well qualified wordsmith to set the questions. When asked to explain this risible state of affairs another functionary said the test was "designed to check if drivers are suitable to take the BTEC [vocational exam] in transporting passengers by taxi and private hire".

Yes, but what was needed was a test to ensure professional drivers are able to do their jobs safely. Result? A qualified cabbie loses his livelihood and the wordsmith's holy grail of perfectly structured written English is made to look silly.

Solecisms can be irritating, but this incident is infuriating.

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