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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Semicolon Spectacle

Sometimes an article makes its way to the top of the New York Times most-emailed list just because it's totally absurd. I think this is typefied by today's most-emailed article, Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location. While carefully studying this article during lunch today, I noticed the following ridiculous characteristics:

> There does not seem to be any "news peg" for this article. That is, it looks like reporter Sam Roberts simply loves semicolons, and found pathos and inspiration in this brave semicolon sticking it out in the harsh environment of a subway advertisement, like a nerdy kid in glasses walking home through a crowd of the neighborhood toughs.
> References to Ernest Hemingway's suicide, as well as serial killer David Berkowitz.
> Quotes on this particular semicolon from various authorities, including Noam Chomsky, who chimed in with the gratuitously political “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”
> Ostentatious use of a semicolon in the article. ("In response, most New Yorkers accelerate; they don’t pause to contemplate.") Admittedly, this one was probably impossible to resist.
> Correction appended noting that the article had incorrectly excised the punctuation from the title of a book on punctuation, Eats, Shoot & Leaves (which was itself the subject of a most-emailed article some time ago, I recall).

And in only 615 words. Now, I consider myself a person who has some compassion for underappreciated punctuation, but this whole article is ridiculous to me, so I can only imagine how it comes off to other people...


eric said...

Obtuse, yes, but not ridiculous. I quite love punctuation, though, so maybe one needs more than compassion to appreciated it.

I also thought the article had a lot of amazing comma (,) use, too, which I found impeccable, too. Yeah grammar (though I still can't diagram a sentence).

Matthew said...

The semicolon is a lifesaver in academic writing; it lets you connect ideas with a punctuation mark rather than a thoughtful conjunction or transition, and helps to make the sentences nice and long.

I've seen many student papers afraid to use the semicolon, they like to put a comma between independent clauses.

I guess I read this piece more as entertainment than reporting, and I wasn't as annoyed by it.

teague said...

Well, perhaps I was being a little too grumpy. I actually do like using semicolons -- but I'm an em dash partisan at heart.