THE controversy over the 50p Brexit commemorative coin took a dramatic twist yesterday when militant punctuation marks went on strike.
They are protesting over the Government’s failure to employ an Oxford comma on the coin’s slogan, as highlighted by novelist Philip Pullman.
One regular comma has been given a placement on the slogan, which says: Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations. But Pullman says an Oxford comma is needed between the words prosperity and and. He is calling for the coin to be boycotted ‘by all literate people’.
A spokesman for the punctuation marks’ union RAGE (Rebellion Against Grammatical Extinction) said: ‘Some say Pullman’s intervention is just self-indulgent nitpicking by a literary clever-clogs. Whether that’s true or not, the fact remains that three million of these coins have been minted and that’s three million jobs lost for our Oxford comma members.’
The spokesman accused the Government of discrimination in snubbing the ‘upper-class’ Oxford comma while employing a common comma as cheap labour.
At a rally yesterday, an exclamation mark shouted: ‘Punctuation marks will not put up with being deprived of employment in this way! And, although we’re on strike, we will allow ourselves to be used in this article to emphasise the seriousness of that statement!’
Along with the Oxford comma issue, the strikers have a package of other demands. They want semi-colons upgraded to full colons and brackets to be given parity with parentheses.
However, literary observers believe the punctuation strike will have little effect. Because of the worldwide growth of Twitter, text messages and emails amid a general dumbing down, punctuation is being employed less and less and there is a big question mark over its future.
RAGE said: ‘it’s not just commas being culled – punctuation is under pressure on all sides. For many years, our brothers in the apostrophe sector have been fighting a rearguard action over their aberrant employment conditions. Meanwhile, our quotation mark comrades have been hit hard by cutbacks as writers choose single quotes over double.’
Some trace the punctuation decline back to ‘stream of consciousness’ writing such as James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses. But the reality is that more and more youngsters are leaving school with few English language skills and the internet has given free rein to semi-literate wannabes who think they can write.
A Government spokesman said last night: ‘Although the use of the Oxford comma is hotly debated, we believe its employment is generally seen as an optional stylistic device. Therefore, we can offer work to Oxford commas only on an ad hoc basis with a zero-hours contract.’
RAGE warned: ‘Action must be taken soon to save punctuation marks. We are vital for articles of every description – for instance, where the writer cannot think of a suitable closing paragraph, but can still inject some faux drama by ending on a set of ellipses . . .’