The Bernard Levin Point On The 50p Coin And The Oxford Comma

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Back a few decades Bernard Levin pointed out the important point of this story about the 50 p coin, Brexit and the Oxford comma. As with all good logical points the example was different, the underlying the same.

There had been a rumpus – even, a Rumpus – over an advertisement claiming that one or other of the manufacturers had the crispiest crisps. Or perhaps crunchiest, memory fades at this distance. Could have been Golden Wonder, could have been one of the other majors, no matter.

This was then investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority and they ruled on whether this claim was true or not. The ASA’s point being that the claim could only be made if it were true. Therefore it was necessary to rule on whether it was true before deciding whether the advertisement could be allowed to continue running.

Levin’s point being that what a glory to live in such a society. No, not one in which speech is restricted only to the truth, even in advertising, nor one in which prodnoses determine what may be said or claimed upon TV. Rather, a society that devotes resources to this has solved all the big problems. Therefore, resources devoted to this means a glorious society which has solved all the big problems.

It’s possible to see a hole or two in that logic. A society twisting itself into knots over he in hte past or present tense when xe is claimed, while still having tens of thousands of child rapes from ethnically based grooming gangs cannot be said to have solved every problem, not even every large problem. But it is also true that we are a fabulously wealthy society that has solved near all of the big problems that have afflicted humanity over the eons.

Of which this is another proof:

For a time, it seemed nothing could divide the nation more sharply than Brexit.

Today, even that most seismic of issues faced being dwarfed by a new controversy featuring a coin, a quotation, and a comma.

A new 50p coin commemorating Brexit caused a very British conundrum, as fans and critics vied over the absence of the Oxford comma from its phrase “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations”.

Sir Philip Pullman, the award-winning author, led the charge, calling for all literate people to boycott the coins. Some claimed the omission of a second comma was “killing” them, while others declared Pullman plainly wrong.

That we worry about such shows that we’ve pretty much solved the food, shelter, clothing, war, poverty problems, no?

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Nautical Nick
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Nautical Nick

I can think of an alternative interpretation, Tim. That dealing with war and starvation is put in the too difficult box, while everyone can give their full opinion over such a trivial matter as an Oxford comma.

Bloke on M4
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Bloke on M4

This is like my rule that when government can fund things like Welsh language music apps, government has plenty of money for skools’n’hospitals. Because why would you fund Welsh language music apps rather than saving lives?

Snarkus
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Snarkus

the old delusion of doing something, maybe ? To do nothing because it is the logical reaction is not something the modern mind can comprehend.

Nigel Sedgwick
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Nigel Sedgwick

In terms of syntactic parsing, there seem to be two main options. Option one: three things being: (i) peace; (ii) prosperity; (iii) friendship with all nations. Option two: three things being: (i) peace with all nations; (ii) prosperity with all nations; (iii) friendship with all nations. In the case of option one, this could be emphasised by writing: “Peace; prosperity; friendship with all nations.” In the case of option two, this could be emphasised by writing: “Peace, prosperity and friendship: with all nations.” That neither of these less ambiguous sentences are used could be interpreted as the meaning being, to… Read more »

Barks
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Barks

Yup, a bit of deliberate ambiguity allows this to cover ideas that specificity might exclude.

Andrew Carey
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Andrew Carey

I think the phrase has been lifted from a quatrain of Jefferson: ‘peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none’ . That’s a bit much to fit on a coin of the realm. But the fuck up is really caused by government. Football clubs issue a new strip every year without fucking it up. Only government can pull this sort of nuisance to our sanity. Keep them out of our lives where practicable.

Spike
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Spike

Wasn’t sure about this, or I would have commented that the coin omits the punch line! (Including the full quote suggests the Oxford comma should appear, as all three items relate to “all nations.”) I concur with Remainers that the currency should not sloganeer; it’s everyone’s. Compare the mania under Obama to replace the statesman on the $20 note with an activist woman (pick one!), an initiative silently strangled under Trump. Should not even say “In God We Trust.”

John B
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John B

Currency should not sloganeer? But it does. Elizabeth II Regina, DG FD = Deo Gratia, Fidei Defensor = By the grace of God Defender of the Faith. What is that if not sloganeering? It’s even religious sloganeering. Hurtful to atheists.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

Trying to parse a slogan on a coin (however well intentioned) is like trying the same trick on “Beanz Meanz Heinz”.

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

There’s been more tantrums from Remainers over this coin than takes place in the average supermarket on a Saturday afternoon.