I like the Oxford comma. It is one of the few bits of punctuation that I am confident of always getting in the correct place. The rules surrounding the Oxford comma are surprisingly simple. It is the comma that comes before the last ‘and’––or similar coordinating conjunction––in a list of three or more items. That’s it. It appears nowhere else. Under no other circumstances. Anywhere else, and it is just a comma. An everyday, red-brick, non-Russell-Group, former-polytechnic, post-1992, Oxford-Brookes comma.
For such a simple, innocuous piece of punctuation, the Oxford comma is subject to more than its fair share of criticism, the latest emanating from the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Thérèse Coffey, who has asked for her staff to stop using the Oxford comma.
Surely this could lead to confusion at the Department of Health? Toilet paper, soap and sponge. Is it a requisition list or an instruction? Then there is the new NHS menu for patients. Soup, and fish and chips and trifle. Not to mention the invitation list for the geriatric wing’s Christmas party. The old folk, Matt Hancock and Thérèse Coffey.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow is pernickety, particular, and pedantic.