Semicolon Celebration

You lovers of language will enjoy this piece by neo-neocon who is celebrating the semicolon:

The NY Times salutes a subway notice demonstrating the proper use of the semicolon. Apparently it’s all too rare a sight nowadays; this bit of punctuation is generally considered an archaic has-been.

She’s referencing this NY Times article about a subway ad featuring the noble semi:

Semicolons are supposed to be introduced into the curriculum of the New York City public schools in the third grade. That is where Mr. Neches, the 55-year-old New York City Transit marketing manager, learned them, before graduating from Tilden High School and Brooklyn College, where he majored in English and later received a master’s degree in creative writing.

But, whatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how.

In fact, when Mr. Neches was informed by a supervisor that a reporter was inquiring about who was responsible for the semicolon, he was concerned.

“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said.

I got turned on to the semicolon while reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp, wherein Ellen James writes a note to Garp – something like, “I remember [the event]; I remember it the way I remember my tongue,” and Garp, appreciating the sentiment, also takes a moment to appreciate Ellen’s use of “the good old semicolon.”

I thought, hmmmm…semicolon…now, why haven’t I been using that thing? My Catholic elementary school had clearly covered it, but I knew I’d been neglecting to punch it up. Once started, I could not stop; it is such a perfectly placed breath-for-emphasis between connected thoughts.

Example: [Rush] came back from break with another “song parody” about his McCain obsession and I turned it off, because he has nothing new to say, and he’s not going to give me a positive reason to vote for Romney; this speaks volumes to me.

I join neo-neocon in appreciation of the semicolon, and I urge its increased usage! Between love and madness lies obsession; between commas and colons lie semicolons.

Perhaps our intentional use of the darling thing will help keep the synapses firing a bit longer and prevent us from sounding like Noam Chomsky in the Times article, who – asked to opine on the subject of semi’s – remarked (or, as the Times wrote it, “sniffed,”) “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”

That remark, by the way, would be called a perfect non sequitur. Ask a man about the musty dust of elevated punctuation and he – fried by a strain of Bush Derangement Syndrome that creates U-turns out of cogent thought – cannot follow; all he can do is double-back.

The good old semicolon; long may it give pause.

WELCOME: Instapundit readers (and thanks Instaguest blogger Ann Althouse, for the link!). Server problems kept me from working most of the day, but I did manage to post a thought for the day that includes some Brian Eno music! And if you think you belong, you’re invited into the crucible!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://wizbangblog.com kimpriestap

    Hey! Someone else who appreciates the semicolon. Great post, Anchoress.

  • Paul

    My very first essay at Columbia University came back with the incredibly stupid admonition to minimize my use of semi-colons, and in fact try not to use them at all, as they were “jarring” for the reader.

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  • http://www.eternityroad.info fporretto

    The great W. Somerset Maugham wrote a satirical short story, The Creative Impulse, about a high-literary writer who had mastered “the humor of punctuation.” No one had ever managed to squeeze as much good clean fun out of a semicolon as she! But eventually, she tired of it and moved on to the colon.

    Also read Lynne Truss’s wonderful tract Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, for more puncutation-based humor (and general edification).

  • smmtheory

    The judicious use of a semicolon can save what would be a run on sentence from the ignomy of being failed grammar; it marshals and organizes the traffic of words.

  • http://submandave.blogspot.com submandave

    Shhhhhh. Don’t tell everyone or those of us who revel in unusual but proper grammar will loose yet another tool of mystique.

  • http://www.comeaway.blogspot.com AngloCathJoi

    I used to get major props from my college English prof (may he rest in peace) for using semi-colons correctly. It’s my favorite punctuation mark.

  • Sovieron

    Let’s not forget about the dash and the colon. I once had a teacher give me advice for using the less common punctuation. She said, “Just use them occasionally and you’ll get a feel for them.” It was sound advice both because I started to look for opportunities (although I no doubt used some badly on the way) and because I started to notice the effect created when reading good writers.

  • Brian H

    subman;
    your next step is to appreciate spelling and learn to avoid malaprops. “Loose” means untie as a verb, or “slack” as an adjective. Rhymes with “goose”. “Lose” refers to loss of possession or failure to win. Rhymes with ruse.

    Sovieron;
    my verbally twisty brain suddenly wondered, reading your post, if the Soviets and Brits would be considered colon-izers and the Americans semi-colon-izers. What say you? (Be polite, please! Or not.)

  • Herrero

    In England they have the APS. The Apostrophe Protection Society. Read the witty little tutorial on the abuse of punctuation marks in “Eats, shoots and leaves.

    Ray Smith


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