Thursday, June 26, 2008

Has Modern Life Killed the Semicolon

Reta sends in this fascinating piece from Slate on the semicolon, its history, and its questionable present:

Has modern life killed the semicolon?
By Paul Collins
Posted Friday, June 20, 2008, at 4:51 PM ET

When the Times of London reported in 1837 on two University of Paris law profs dueling with swords, the dispute wasn't over the fine points of the Napoleonic Code. It was over the point-virgule: the semicolon. "The one who contended that the passage in question ought to be concluded by a semicolon was wounded in the arm," noted the Times. "His adversary maintained that it should be a colon."

French passions over the semicolon are running high once again. An April Fool's hoax this year by the online publication Rue89 claimed that the Nicolas Sarkozy government planned to demand "at least three semicolons per page in official administrative documents." Parliamentarian Benoist Apparu was in on the joke—"The disappearance of the semicolon in Eastern France is absolutely dramatic," he gamely proclaimed—and linguist Alain Rey (barely) kept a straight face for a video calling Frenchmen to arms.


The semicolon is hardly dead. Though it appears more commonly as part of a wink than as a punctuation mark that links two related sentences, how many other punctuation marks have merited articles in the New York Times, Slate, Rue89 and Encarta? ;-)

Mark our words. It will enjoy a comeback even better than the one John Travolta made in "Pulp Fiction." We just need to find the punctuation equivalent of Uma Thurman so that the two may dance.

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