For time immemorial, England has provided America with certain aspirational rules for proper decorum—for example, putting skirts on beds and tables, reading A Tale of Two Cities one’s first year of high school, and dividing lists with commas as God and Oxford university intended. Now, with Brexit fast approaching, England, perhaps negatively influenced by America’s lax relationship with grammar and existing agreements, seems to have simply decided that no rules are real, throwing out their commitment to commas right alongside their membership in the EU. The British Royal Mint has issued a 50p piece to commemorate Brexit with a message reading “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations,” a phrase even Grammarly tells me is missing a comma. Next, they’ll be eating roast on Tuesday and having tea time before lunch while the world as we know it collapses into dystopia.
And perhaps no one is a better predictor of minute indicators for coming dystopia than His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman, who is calling for his countrymen to boycott Brexit money over unforgivably tacky comma usage. Following the unveiling of the commaless coin, Pullman quickly put himself on the right side of history:
“The ‘Brexit’ 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people,” Pullman wrote on Twitter in response to the announcement of the coin, set to enter into circulation on January 31.
Apparently, the quote is a riff on something Thomas Jefferson said when America dipped out of a different union involving the Brits, a decision England seems to have warmed to quite suddenly, which is in itself alarming.
Once thought by just a few outlying heathens to be optional, the Oxford comma, used before the “and” in a list, has long served as a bastion against utter fucking chaos. As the Guardian pointed out, the missing Oxford comma quickly unleashes pandemonium on an otherwise well-ordered list, allowing such crimes as inadvertently claiming J.K. Rowling as a parent:
“Compare: ‘I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and JK Rowling’ with ‘I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling,’” the paper’s style guide purportedly reads while also maintaining that the comma is generally optional.
In college, I was told that publications like the Guardian were responsible for this longstanding war on sense and order, as newspapers first omitted the final comma in an effort to save print space. But this new, vacillating British commitment to arbitrary rules they made up is disappointing at best, terrifying at worst. Exiting the EU is one thing, but exiting fussy grammar rules is legitimate cause for global concern.