Making sense of a semicolon

Ancient Greeks used semicolon for a question mark. In London, it first appeared in a 1568 chess guide. Shakespeare, it is said, grew up in an era that scarcely recognized its worth. Two law professors in 1837 dueled, with swords, over its usage. The wounded advocated a semicolon to conclude a given passage; the winner favoured a colon.

However, recent years have seen a decline usage of the punctuation mark; possibly because of widespread ignorance about its proper role. In his piece on using semicolons Robert Harris says that by using semicolon instead of a period between two sentences you show that these two sentences have a closer relationship to each other than they do to the sentences around them.

An article posted in Slate refers to an April Fool’s hoax themed on the French passion over a semicolon. A French online publication, credited with the hoax put out a story claiming that the Nicolas Sarkozy government stipulated that there should be “at least three semicolons per page in all official documents”.

Reporters were taken in, since, like every great hoax, it was plausible enough to be true. Le Figaro has proclaimed, “The much-loved semicolon is in the process of disappearance; let us protect it,” and there was even a brief attempt at a Committee for the Defense of the Semicolon—a modern update on the Anti-Comma League that France had back in 1934. French commentators blame the semicolon’s decline on everything from “the modern need for speed” to the corrupting influence of English and its short, declarative sentences.

So says the Slate, which runs an engaging piece on the rise and decline of semicolon. Link to the Slate story…Has modern life killed the semicolon ? 


2 Responses

  1. Refreshing to see a post on punctuations — something the new generation is simply ignorant of.

  2. Punctuation is sometimes overused too.
    As in the case of more than one exclamation marks!!
    (Or sentences with braces (that contain sub-thoughts.))

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