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Neil Neches: Hero, or Saint?
Tuesday, February 19, 2008   9:38 AM

I managed to avoid it all day yesterday, but now that the NYT article "Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location" has jumped to the top of their "Most E-mailed" list, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

As a fan of the semicolon I really enjoyed this article, which mixes praise for star punctuator Neil Neches with trivia about this increasingly disregarded mark.

(Notable: "In 2004, a court in San Francisco rejected a conservative group's challenge to a statute allowing gay marriage because the operative phrases were separated incorrectly by a semicolon instead of by the proper conjunction.")

Anyways, check it out. This is probably the only time you'll ever see kudos from pop-grammarian Lynne Truss right alongside kudos from linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, who once said of Truss: "you can't help feeling that the self-mockery is a cover for self-congratulation."

(The story's misspelling of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" as "Eats Shoots & Leaves" — the NYT issued a correction today — is tragic on many, many levels.)

In the past I've blogged about both the conspicuous absence of a semicolon and a case of baffling, serial misuse; if you're interested in using it correctly — and why not Say It With Semicolons? — here's an excellent guide.


Wow. I just discovered your site while settling an argument with my roommate concerning the Oxford comma (and yes, it was prompted by the "Vampire Weekend" song). We were both English majors, so this sort of thing comes up regularly.

I, too, am a huge semicolon fan.

I'm not sure if you have posted about this yet and I just missed it, but I am very troubled by the growing trend of using quotation marks for emphasis. For example, I've seen signs in store windows where the product is in quotes. One sign that I recently saw said "ORANGES". Why the need for quotation marks?

I fear that this is merely the beginning....

It sounds like you'd enjoy The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

I'm usually pretty sanguine about language change, but the rise of emphasis-quotes seems to come at the expense of my beloved scare quotes.

Thanks. I laughed "out loud".

This story has word nerds all a-flutter now, doesn't it? Has anyone seen the actual sign? The story in the NYT just had a picture of the semicolonist, er, semicolonialist, er, semicolonizer . . .

Language Log was on this story before it hit the NYT. Their first post included a picture of the ad.

The editor of a magazine I used to work for banned editorial staff from using semi-colons (in the publication, not in their private life). As such I have a special fondness for this particular punctuation mark.

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