Editing some copy written in American recently, I grumbled to myself about all the Oxford commas – the ones like those in the subject line, that appear entirely redundantly in sentences involving lists. As though ‘Apples, pears and bananas’ is somehow wrong. It’s all a hangover from a pompous and smug notion of the language that allows the supposedly educated to sneer at their supposed educational inferiors, and I loath it.
Then what should turn up in my inbox but this, from a friend:
Illustrating, amusingly, that while often redundant, and certainly not to be used invariably, the OC has its place.
I’m sure I was not the only one delighted by revelations that the irreplaceable Michael Gove has been putting the stick about among his minions, telling them they mustn’t use words like mustn’t, and much else besides.
Funnily enough, one or two of his edicts rang a bell with me. I also wince slightly when I see a sentence starting with ‘However’. I don’t know why. It’s what I was taught. I also have problems with ‘impact’ as a verb – though I recognise that it’s now made itself comfortable in the language, and won’t (sorry ‘will not’) be leaving anytime soon, and baulk at the redundancy of the ‘with’ in ‘met with’. And who could quibble with a general insistence on avoiding repetition, or on being gracious in thanking people for their letters?
My favourite, though, of all the pipsqueak principles is the penultimate: civil servants should ensure (sorry, ‘make sure’) that they have ‘Not used anything too pompous’. Presumably, then, they should use only ‘things’ which are just pompous enough.