The Oxford Comma

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I still can spot a zeugma from 1,000 yards. I didn’t get where I am today without knowing the vocative. All thanks to my English teacher, Mr Merrylees. He was big on clause analysis.

Well, do you? Do even you know what an Oxford Comma is? Come on, hands up! And do you even care about grammar? Well, you should. 

Albert Gifford, a 15-year-old school boy from Shepton Mallet, certainly does. Bad grammar makes him ill. It ruined his breakfast. Albert was about to pour himself some Tesco Pure Smooth Orange Juice when he observed on the carton that it was made from the “most tastiest oranges”. Quelle horreur! The poor boy nearly fainted. The “grammatical error affected me greatly,” said he, nearly pouring said juice on to his Weetabix. He wrote to a fierce letter to the dread Tesco, who didn’t reply.

Well done Albert! Once the grammar goes, it all goes. That’s what my old school taught me. It wasn’t called a Grammar school for nothing. My teachers gave a considerable fig about it. It was about all they cared about (whoops! dodgy grammar?). They were like medieval clerics peddling rhetorical devices (see above). They made Lynne Truss look louche. They cared deeply about things like predicates, pluperfects, flying gerunds, dangling prepositions, ablative absolutes, litotes, oxymorons, synecdoches, ejaculations, and the Oxford Comma – and never using dashes instead. See what I did there!

I still can spot a zeugma from 1,000 yards. I didn’t get where I am today without knowing the vocative. All thanks to my English teacher, Mr Merrylees. He was big on clause analysis. His blackboard could resemble Wittgenstein’s Spidergrams. Unhappily married, his passions went more towards the deconstruction of the Miltonic Simile. Paradise Lost was Merry Hell.

When I started teaching, this pedant stuff went out of fashion. I was somehow persuaded that grammar and spelling were fascist and robbed tots of their fizzing creativity. It’s one of the many things about which I’ve been merely wrong. While you never correct speech, you always correct writing. It saves lives. And anyway, grammar is cool these days, what with Structural and Psycho Linguistics and the likes of professors Chomsky and Pinker, who make Mr Merrylees and La Truss seem antediluvian.

So well done Albert! He’s given us another good reason for boycotting that monstrous emporium. Every little helps. Tesco eventually replied to him. Its “design team” is on the case. Yeah, yeah. We must all give a flying one about bad language, good grammar, the superlative, and the Oxford Comma.


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