Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I have my finger on the pulse of the people who read my blog

Why are you all so viciously pro-semicolon? Who cares about semicolons?

6 comments:

jme2103 said...

Semicolons fill out the spectrum of connective punctuation, allowing the expression of broader range of relationships between clauses. Some may argue (as Donald Barthelme in a recent post of yours does in a concise, if not thorough, way) that only periods and commas are needed for expressing connections between independent and dependent clauses; semicolons are a crutch for those who lack sufficient command of the English language. While I agree that from a purely axiomatic point of view the semicolon is, perhaps, unnecessary, I propose that the semicolon's superfluous position in the brotherhood of punctuation lends it significance that the others have to a lesser degree, if at all. How much more interesting is to read a sentence that uses a semicolon where a period and two sentences, or a comma and conjunction, would have sufficed? Why did the author construct that sentence in that way? What are the semantic threads, signified by the semicolon, tying those two clauses together? Syntactic insignificance and semantic importance are one and the same. Because the semicolon straddles the syntactic-semantic border, it occupies a fascinating and unique place in the English language.

olivia said...

I will leave the discussion to the experts, like jme2103 and:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/18/nyregion/18semicolon.html

http://www.dictionaryevangelist.com/2008/02/semicolon-appreciation-society.html

http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/Features/Columns/?article=DefenseSemicolon

http://dailytri.wordpress.com/2008/04/07/why-writers-need-the-semicolon/

Anyway there are more, but I just wanted to note that you are obviously in the minority with your semicolon hatred.

Pancake Lady said...

actually i take it all back. semicolons do serve one very important purpose: ;to signal that a sentence will end in an exclamation point!

Miles said...

yeah the question is really more about your bizarre prejudices. did a semicolon kill your family or something?

sf said...

The only real reason semi-colons exist is because they serve a particular (and once important) function. If (when?) they cease to exist, then it will be because their function has disappeared. Which many people (i.e. the French, who care a great deal about this sort of thing) would regret because it means the end (so goes the theory) of a certain type of prose, the end of Flaubert and Proust and blah blah. But punctuation fads are always being born and dying out (like the brilliant expressive Victorian dash-combos: --! and --: and cetera). Those fads are in due course replaced by new permutations (?!, as in wtf?!, f'rexample).

My gut feeling is we can count on the semi-colon struggling on for a little while longer, despite its general decline, simply because there is still sometimes a need for the kind of classical balance only a semi-colon can provide. Anyhow, I don't see why the problem needs to excite one's prejudices one way or the other. The sentence that needs a semi-colon will get one; the sentence that doesn't need a semi-colon will be written without it.

sf said...

also, some evidence that Maureen Dowd doesn't dig the point-virgule:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/opinion/19dowd.html?em

Shocking! Comma splice! Maybe jonly proving that, as many journalists, she is paying more attention to Dickens's plot than his prose style.

You said a while back that Dowd losing it, but now I'm actually convinced.