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
  • 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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  • 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.

  • submandave

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

  • 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

    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.

    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