• 247

The melancholy decline of the semicolon

Good morning all,

I very rarely post but this one is a topic near and dear to my heart and I found this article very interesting. It is about the semicolon. I discover that I want to use it a lot, if for no other reason than to make my short sentences longer. Not a very good reason, I know.

This is the link, hope you enjoy it and possibly useful. The article is from The Post, on the UnHerd site.

https://unherd.com/thepost/the-melancholy-decline-of-the-semicolon/?utm_source=pocket-newtab-global-en-GB

Cheers,

Mike

mike-lampe.com



0 0 0 0 0 0
Replies (11)
    • Thanks for sharing, Mike – a very interesting article.

      When I first started working as an editor I was told to treat semicolons as a way of connecting two discrete but related sentences, the idea being that the semicolon represents a slightly softer break than a full stop (it can be thought of as a hinge between sentences). Thus, the text on either side of a semicolon should function as a complete sentence, and one should be able to replace the semicolon with a full stop without having to make any changes to the text. For me, the strength of this approach is that it gives the semicolon a clear role, and ensures it can’t just be swapped with a colon or dash.

      It’s interesting that the article cites Jane Austen as putting the semicolon to “best use”, because in fact Austen uses it in ways other than that which I’ve described, no doubt a reflection of the fact that the ‘rules’ governing semicolon use have changed over time.

      I confess to being sceptical of the idea that social media lies at the heart of the semicolon’s decline (although I’d be willing to concede that the prevalence of social media engenders a predilection for shorter sentences). For one thing, if you’re using semicolons correctly they shouldn’t have any effect on the length of your sentences. For another, while the idea that social media and the internet are corroding attention spans (especially in the young) is regularly trotted out, I have yet to see any empirical evidence of it; indeed, a linked article says the decline in semicolon use is “a change researchers put down to more people communicating via social media”. So, in other words, it’s pure conjecture!

      0 0 0 0 0 0
      • Thanks, Edward,

        I don't plan on stopping my use of semicolons. They have their place and if correctly used should go unnoticed by the reader.

        I have had a few of my draft manuscripts professionally edited and the occasional em dash inserted to connect similar sentences. Which I found refreshing; adding a modern twist to my dull script -- appearing more joined up.

        Cheers,

        Mike

        0 0 0 0 0 0
      • I learned to use semicolons exactly the way Edward James describes above. "My" editor from the publisher, however, has a very clear take on the subject. NO semicolons whatsoever. Period, no discussion allowed. No parantheses either, btw. And only one exclamation mark per manuscript. (I lie. In the latest novel, I got two.) Looks indeed like the modern (? is it that?) obsession with brevity is spilling into novel writing. 

        0 0 0 0 0 0
        • A publisher in-house style sheet is just there for visual consistency across books and is not connected to the author's writing style at least with my publisher. My trade publishing experience in that subject is very different and my publisher's style sheet is nowhere near that prescriptive. I guess this is specific to that particular publisher. Nobody else in my debut group has ever mentioned as well being told that they couldn't use something, and we share a lot.

          I was never sent a style sheet, but my copy editor mentioned some of the in-house style in connection with my MS which were mainly things such as: which version of ok/OK/okay to use, style for chapter title (i.e. bolded or not), what kind of book/film/poem titles should be in italics or not. However, I was never told there were any kind of punctuation I was not allowed to use. Quite the opposite, I apparently do not use commas enough! 

          0 0 0 0 0 0
          • Or semicolons; I offer that last sentence as exhibit A. 😉

            0 0 0 0 0 0
            • Yes, I completely get the importance of a style guide. I actually used to occasionally help write them as part of my previous employment. But in my experience those are mainly to do with either the presentation of the content, or defining a preferred option where there is more than one generally accepted way of writing a particular term or expression - exactly as in your examples. The style guide helps provide consistency across multiple writers and publications for those sorts of things, and thus creates an overall house style.

              Never before have I come across any guide that polices punctuation to the extent of banning certain usages within the content, though. It just seems overly intrusive to me.

              Anyway... I'm probably overreacting! Oops - used an exclamation mark... jail time for me. 😂 

              0 0 0 0 0 0
            Not logged in users can't 'Comments Post'.
            •  · 1 friends
            2
            3
            1
            2
            2