The death of the Oxford comma has not been so much exaggerated as utterly misreported. A story in the book publishing website Galleycat led some to conclude that the Oxford University Press was no longer insisting on a peculiarity of punctuation that some think rather silly.

The Oxford, or serial comma — as most Gray Matter readers will know — is a comma placed before a coordinating conjunction preceding the final item in a list of three or more items: “Hop, skip, and jump” is an example.

It turned out, however, that the advice that writers should “as a general rule” avoid using the Oxford comma came not from the OUP but from the university’s PR people.

No matter. Digging up a fact or two on the subject led me to an amusing tale of which I was previously unaware.

The Times once published an unintentionally humorous description of a Peter Ustinov documentary, noting that “highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector”.

Wikipedia commented: “This would still be ambiguous if a serial comma were added, as Mandela could then be mistaken for a demigod, although he would be precluded from being a dildo collector.”