Let us talk today about Oxford commas and men banging on about sport. Without Inspector Morse, I would not have known about the Oxford comma. In an episode once, the grammarian cum solver of murders took time out from bloodied pondering to lecture his sidekick Lewis on its proper use.
This pernickety comma is inserted after an ‘and’ or even an ‘or’ in a list. Its failure to appear on the Brexit day 50 pence piece has caused the sort of row that Colin Dexter, the novelist who created Morse, would have enjoyed.
The back of this coin reads “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations” – a ridiculous sentiment of itself, but controversial also to some for not having an extra comma after ‘prosperity’.
The author Sir Philip Pullman has attacked that missing Oxford comma, also known as a serial comma. Other authors disagree and say that this extra comma is what you might call an opt-in grammatical convention.
Never mind Pullman, Dexter and Morse, the Oxford comma is but a pedant’s pause, a killjoy comma, a slows-down-your sentence comma and a comma that ought to be put into a coma. I won’t be using that fussy comma, although I do share Sir Philip’s Remainer sympathies.
Seeing as we’ve already minted and melted a consignment of 50p pieces that bore the wrong date of departure from the EU, it is an absurd expense to mint a fresh batch – with or without that extra comma.
Still, arguing about a missing comma is more interesting than going on about Brexit. For the next few days, those of us who voted to remain will have to keep our heads down while all about us the Brexit braggadocio erupts, before fizzling out and leaving a damp blackened stump like a morning-after firework.
Incidentally, ‘braggadocio’ was carefully chosen to annoy Brexiteers because it sounds suspiciously ‘foreign’ and possibly Italian. The word is generally thought to have been coined by the playwright Spenser to name a character who is a braggart. The Italian connection lay in the addition of ‘-occio’ to the name, a suffix denoting something large, as in a big Brexit braggart (this suggests the Tory twerp MP Mark Francois, who is in fact small but generous in circumference).
In the office the men come and go, talking about last night’s sporting imbroglio.
Ann Francke, head of the Chartered Management Institute, yesterday told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that men should be prevented from talking about sport at work, as such chatter alienates female staff.
Her comments are picked up today by The Times with a front-page story. The Daily Star joins the party with its customary understatement – “WORLD’S GONE MAD… DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR TACKLE AT WORK.”
Francke is clearly behind the times. We live in an age of equal opportunities when women are also able to bore on about sport should they wish.
Yet her comments about men are sexist in a sense, or reverse-sexist or whatever, as they assume that all men talk about sport at work. This man never has done. Talking about sport is not my thing, although I might lob in a passing observation about the tennis once a year.
But if you would like a run-down on how to be a rubbish squash player who runs around the court to little effect on a wing and a swear, I’m your man for that conversation.