Semicolon

Semicolon coverSemicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark
Cecelia Watson
Ecco (July 30, 2019), 221 pages
Kindle edition $12.99, Amazon hardcover $13.29
Kindle edition purchased on sale for $1.99

I downloaded a sample of this book as soon as I saw the review last summer. I’m not sure why I’m just now getting around to reading it, but the advantage of waiting is that I got a darn good price on the Kindle edition.

Watson reassures us that if we have ever felt any confusion about the use of the semicolon we are very much in the mainstream. She makes clear that while the “first professional grammarians sought clarity through rules, they ended up creating confusion, and the semicolon was collateral damage.” She tells us that before professional grammarians showed up, “the marks of punctuation were analogous to the rests in a piece of music, and were to be applied as individual circumstances and preferences dictated.”

It is interesting to read that Herman Melville had a passion for the semicolon in Moby-Dick, and that Raymond Chandler never touched a semicolon in his mystery novels but used them extensively in his literary essays.

Personally, I prefer to adhere to the standard American English rule for use of a semicolon: it is to be used “either when the items in a list are lengthy and have their own internal punctuation, or when separating two independent or coordinating clauses.”

I use the semicolon rarely; there are times, however, when inserting a semicolon makes sense.



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