“There are individuals who embrace the Oxford comma and individuals who don’t,” wrote Lynne Truss in her ebook Eats, Shoots and Leaves, “and I’ll simply say this: by no means get between these individuals when drink has been taken.”

It’s “one of the crucial controversial punctuation marks in historical past”, stated Susie Dent in The i Paper. And now our new Well being Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has taken a stand on the problem. In one of many first electronic mail edicts to NHS workers from her workplace, they have been warned to avoid “jargon” and “keep away from Oxford commas”. For these not acquainted, the Oxford or serial comma is one which comes earlier than “and” in a sequence of three or extra gadgets in a listing.

Critics accuse it of inflicting unnecessary cluttering, as in “we ate steak, inexperienced beans, and chips”. However omitting it could actually trigger confusion, too, as within the sentence: “We went to the park with our canines, Grandma and Grandpa.” The controversy has been raging for the reason that nineteenth century, and has even impressed a rock music, by Vampire Weekend. The lyrics go: “Who offers a f**ok about an Oxford comma?”

They’d a degree, stated Hannah Jane Parkinson in The Guardian. After all, all of us have “grammar bugbears”. Personally, I’m a fan of the “cadence and rhythm” this comma lends to sentences, though I respect Coffey’s lengthy opposition: she’s been tweeting in opposition to it for years. However ought to it actually be her precedence proper now, when 6.8 million individuals are ready for routine remedy, and 132,000 posts are unfilled? Absolutely she has “extra vital issues to give attention to”.

Coffey is true to insist on clear communication within the NHS, stated Ruth Dudley Edwards in The Every day Telegraph – the place as of late, “paperwork are drafted by individuals who don’t even know that the phrase for a organic feminine is ‘lady’”. However she’s improper to persecute this “harmless” little comma. The secret’s to not use it on a regular basis, which appears to be like fussy, however solely to forestall ambiguity.

It may forestall main mix-ups: in a single Maine courtroom case involving additional time funds to truck drivers, the absence of a single Oxford comma modified the which means of a contract and price employers $5m. It may additionally “prevent from public ridicule”. Always remember the well-known (although sadly, it appears, apocryphal) ebook dedication: “To my mother and father, Ayn Rand and God.”