Britain is living in a “post-punctuation world”, academics have warned, with the Bank of England named as the latest major institution to ignore the correct use of the English language.
The Bank has been accused of “dumbing down” after choosing to remove punctuation from a quote by Sir Winston Churchill printed on its new £5 notes.
In its concept image for the new polymer £5 notes the Bank correctly included double quotation marks around the former prime minister’s famous saying: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
However, it has emerged that it quietly dropped them from the final design, something it is understood has attracted complaints from keen-eyed members of the public.
The National Literacy Trust has backed their cause advising that the quote is grammatically incorrect in its current state appearing without a full stop or quotation marks.
It is likely to further fuel a national debate over whether proper use of grammar and punctuation is being devalued by society and follows a number of local councils sparking public outrage by banning apostrophes from road signs, after national guidelines warned punctuation could “confuse” emergency services.
Some reversed the decision after members of the public resorted to using marker pens to fill in apostrophes missing from signs.
Prof Alan Smithers, head of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, said: "We are living in a post-punctuation world created by big institutions. Some people may dismiss omissions as pedantry, but they have lost sight of the fact that precision of expression reflects precision of thought."
Speaking about the £5 notes a spokeswoman for the Trust, which aims to improve literacy levels in the UK, said: "If you are referencing a quotation word-for-word, use double quotation marks at the start and end of the quoted section. Place full stops and commas inside the quotation marks for a complete quoted sentence."
The Bank had originally included double quotation marks in its concept image for the new polymer £5 notes but quietly dropped them from the final design.
Last night critics suggested the note's designers had sacrificed "correct" punctuation for the sake of creating an aesthetically pleasing design. A spokesman at the Bank declined to comment.
New polymer £5 notes were introduced in October last year and there are now around 400 million in circulation.
Dr Tara Stubbs, an English lecturer at the University of Oxford, said such omissions were "condescending" and accused the Bank of trying to dumb down grammar.
She said: "It is a bit peculiar because it looks like its the Five Pounds that's speaking and not Winston Churchill. There should be quotation marks and full stop, definitely. It also doesn't have the Oxford comma after 'tears'. To take that stuff out is condescending and I find efforts to dumb down like this just irritating."
Prof Smithers also suggested the Bank's designers "had a poor grasp of grammar", adding that they were "more concerned about shapes and patterns".
But the Bank's scant use of punctuation divided academics and literary experts, with some choosing to defend its decision.
Prof Geoff Pullum, a grammar expert at the University of Edinburgh, dismissed claims that the notes are grammatically incorrect as "a silly myth".
He said: "The general principle that a full stop is required applies to connected prose. Quote marks would be serving no purpose on the note as it's obvious that the quote belongs to the great Sir Winston."
And Lisa Appignanesi, chair of the Royal Society of Literature, suggested that the absence of quote marks and a full stop would not have bothered Winston Churchill, were he still alive.
She said: "The eminent Winston Churchill might have wondered why he was on a mere five pound note and not something a little weightier. I don’t know, orator that he was, whether he would have noticed the missing punctuation."