Punctuated Written English

A Pop-Culture Moment for the Semicolon?

The New York Times tried to bury the story in its N.Y./Region section. But by early this morning, it was the paper’s most frequently e-mailed article.

Was it a commentary on hometown girl Lindsay Lohan’s nude photo shoot? An elegy for former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani and his presidential aspirations? Hardly! The Times took a moment yesterday to recognize the semicolon; readers echoed the encomium around the web.

The punctuational love-fest came from Times reporter Sam Roberts’ account of the positive reception afforded to an NYC Transit anti-litter poster on the subway:

“Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.”

Roberts retains an appropriate air of neutrality throughout the piece, writing that “in literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism,” and that “Americans, in particular, prefer shorter sentences without [the semicolon].”

Oh yeah? Tell that to the thousands of readers with whom this article has struck a chord. Tell that to my boyfriend, who confesses that the semicolons in my e-mails won his computational linguist heart.

Or just tell it to the NYT. A rudimentary search turned up semicolons in three articles in the last two days, including one usage that probably should have been a comma.

Is the world going semicolon crazy? And if it were, dear readers, wouldn’t it be great?

3 replies on “A Pop-Culture Moment for the Semicolon?”

Yes; even the local community insert in the Los Angeles Times had an article about the semicolon last week. I wonder what’s going on; a grammatical uprising in favor of more interesting writing?

Wow, the L.A. Times wrote about the semicolon the week before the NYT did? Where is this article? I’m going to try to go and find it so I can add a link in the comments section here. Thanks for the recommendation!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.