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All for want of a nail

Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service

Lynne Truss, in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, revisited the trial of Roger Casement, in search of a comma.

Roger Casement was tried, found guilty, sentenced and executed under the Treason Act of 1351. That was, and is (for it remains in force in English law to this day) quite an enlightened piece of legislation, in that it attempts to define and circumscribe what is involved in an act of treason. Essential to the conviction  was whether or not Casement had been

adherent to the King’s enemies in his Realm, giving to them aid and comfort, in the Realm[,] or elsewhere.

Notice that critical second comma: if it’s there, Casement was indeed guilty, and Mr Justice Darling was entitled to read that “giving aid and comfort” were words of apposition: that is to say, if one took the side of the king’s foes, one was a traitor irrespective of…

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