Mighty Red Pen

June 30, 2008

Say it ain’t so, semicolon

Filed under: Perilous punctuation,Pop culture — mighty red pen @ 7:28 pm
Tags: , , ,

Evidently, we have come to bury the semicolon, not to praise it. Or so Paul Collins, who has written an article for Slate called “; (: Has modern life killed the semicolon?” would have us believe:

The semicolon has spent the last century as a fussbudget mark. Somerset Maugham and George Orwell disdained it; Kurt Vonnegut once informed a Tufts University crowd that “All [semicolons] do is show that you’ve been to college.” New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s favorite put-down for egghead bureaucrats who got in his way was “semicolon boy.” And though semicolons have occasionally made news—tariff bills have imploded over their misplacement, and a 1927 execution hinged on the interpretation of a semicolon—the last writers to receive much notice for semicolon use have been a New York City Transit employee and the Son of Sam. In 1977 the NYPD speculated that “the killer could be a freelance journalist” because of his “use of a semicolon” in his taunting letters. (Decades later, columnist Jimmy Breslin still marveled that “Berkowitz is the only murderer I ever heard of who knew how to use a semicolon.”)

MRP would say, not so fast there, semicolon boy. Reports of the semicolon’s death are greatly exaggerated. And our friends at SPOGG agree.

Hat tip to SteamedPenguin.

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