Strange Semicolon Sighting

The semicolon, what Frank McCourt calls the yellow traffic light of punctuation, is common in literature but rarely appears in advertising copy. Which is why the sight of it in a public service ad on the New York subways is striking to grammar groupies. The ad beseeches riders to take their newspaper with them when they leave the train: “Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”

The subterranean resurrection of the semicolon prompted Sam Roberts to reflect semihumorously on the period hovering over the comma. His essay quotes Kurt Vonnegut: “When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life. Old age is more like a semicolon.” Read what Roberts has to say; you’ll enjoy his essay; I know you will.

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5 Responses to “Strange Semicolon Sighting”

  1. Tacticus Maximus Says:

    And death i think is no parenthesis

  2. Tom Panelas Says:

    I like semicolons; I use them all the time.

  3. Chris Lemoi Says:

    Aren’t semi colons the last resort for a writer that wants to blather but hates to be accused of a run on?

  4. paulhoffman Says:

    I prefer the long dash myself, but you, dear blog readers, have been spared an excess of them because I often forget how to make them in WordPress.

  5. Howard Goldowsky Says:

    The most astonishing thing about this story is that the ad actually uses the semicolon correctly! I also agree with one commentator who said that using a colon in the ad, instead of a semicolon, would be more sophisticated usage; but the semicolon is more erudite.

    What irks me is how often short story writers “get in” a semicolon into the first paragraph of a story. It happens more often than semicolon use in general. My opinion is that writers like to “show off” their knowledge of punctuation, before a reader has time to stop reading.

    Long live correct punctuation!

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