Tuesday, July 29, 2014

For the Love Of All You Hold Dear: "Restore the semicolon to journalism; before it’s too late"

From Poynter:
Maybe it’s the oppressive Florida heat and humidity, but I find myself in a mischievously contrarian mood these days. First I flew the flag of the Oxford comma. Then I raised the roof on behalf of the passive voice. So why not try for a trifecta: a proposal that we restore the undervalued semicolon to its proper place in journalism – ahead of the dash.
It could be that I’ve been shaped by the influence of one of my favorite writers, more importantly, the richest writer in the world: J.K. Rowling. If a woman now worth more than the Queen of England peppers her prose with semicolons, why should we deny their power and influence.
Writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, Rowling has given us The Cuckoo’s Calling, a detective mystery with her flawed and injured hero Cormoran Strike. Check out this passage:
An overdose had simply seemed consistent with the trend of Leda’s life; with the squats and the musicians and the wild parties; with the squalor of her final relationship and home; with the constant presence of drugs in her vicinity; with her reckless quest for thrills and highs. Strike alone had asked whether anyone had known his mother had taken to shooting up; he alone had seen a distinction between her predilection for cannabis and a sudden liking for heroin; he alone had unanswered questions and saw suspicious circumstances. But he had been a student of twenty, and nobody had listened.
For the record, that’s six semicolons in a paragraph of 101 words, about one every 17 words. Let it be known, that no language was injured in the making of this paragraph.
If you’d like to brush up on your semicolon skills, please follow this argument, which I have adapted here from a chapter of the book The Glamour of Grammar:

Come to think of it, the semicolon does look a little like a colon with a polyp. In truth, it is probably used more often these days in winking emoticons ;-) than as an alternative to the period or the comma. Maybe because a period sits atop a comma in the semicolon, it sends off a “neither here nor there” aura, threatening me with its indifference.

Whenever I’m having unsettled thoughts about punctuation, I turn to the work of Tom Wolfe. It was in the 1960s, after all, when Wolfe and his buddies began to bust the boundaries of conventional nonfiction. Among those innovations was a tendency to use punctuation like hot spice in a Cajun stew. A little this!…A little that*!*!…Bada boom!!!