Say No to the Oxford comma

Say No to the Oxford comma

Pullman is wrong about the Brexit 50p

Nothing illustrates the UK’s ability to fall out over silly things better than the row over the Brexit 50p piece.

To recap, the author Philip Pullman says the coin’s slogan – “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations” – requires a comma before the “and”.

This is silly.

Pullman, creator of the trilogy His Dark Materials, is wrong.

The Oxford comma – so-called because it is required in the Oxford University Press style guide – is a comma placed before “and” in lists.

Now any punctuation mark should only be used if it provides clarity or understanding.

So here is a sentence without an Oxford comma: “I bought coffee, beans, apples, pears, bananas and oranges." Perfectly OK.

And here is the same sentence with an Oxford comma: “I bought coffee, beans, apples, pears, bananas, and oranges." Its presence adds nothing.

Worse, adding one can sometimes confuse. If you write “I saw Solange, Rachael and Iris at the pub”, it’s clear all three were enjoying a beer.

Insert an Oxford comma, “I saw Solange, Rachael, and Iris at the pub”, and it isn’t obvious whether Solange and Rachael were in the saloon bar, too.

So use the Oxford comma only when its omission causes ambiguity.  “I bought coffee, apples, pears, bananas, French beans and bread” implies you purchased a baguette. Substitute “I bought coffee, apples, pears, bananas, French beans, and bread” and the loaf is Mother’s Pride.

So the 50p coin isn’t wrong – or at least not on account of its commas.

Highbrook bows to no reader in its admiration for Pullman and his greatest creation, the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison (above). But perhaps his outburst is just a tiny, tiny bit pompous?

Cliché watch

Here’s Polly Neate, of the redoubtable housing charity Shelter, criticising the government’s new First Homes scheme: “When will this government realise that we need real investment in new low-cost social homes, not another initiative that simply shuffles the deckchairs on the Titanic?”

Surely we can consign this dead metaphor to the bottom of the ocean and come up with something fresher. We suggest “reallocating the commas in Oxford”.

Preposterous twaddle of the month

Arts Council England surely deserves a prize for the most pointless rebranding with its attempts to refer to “creative practitioners” instead of artists.

Although when it comes to meaningless jargon, the BBC ran a close second with this sentence on the “restructuring” of its news division: “We need to be aware that users aren’t coming to our linear output.”

What they mean is that in the online era people no longer watch the news at 6pm or 10pm, but why would a news organisation want to use simple language that people can understand?

Must fly

A new safety announcement on the London Underground about the use of escalators advises us to “keep our feet clear of the steps”. Highbrook is as nimble as an Olympic gymnast, but levitation is far from easy.

Word of the month: atelier

Once “ateliers” were the preserve of artists (and pretentious ones at that, unless they were French). So we were amused to see a “grooming atelier” has recently opened at London Bridge station. As it does haircuts and shaves, that’ll be a “barber’s” to the rest of us. Now we’re off to the vinicultural emporium.

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