Friday, February 29, 2008

A Sign of Hope

This story made me smile. Someone out there in the real world actually knows how to use a semicolon!

Never mind that the use is inelegant; it's technically correct, unpretentious, and practical.

I'll admit a certain fondness for the semicolon. It does so much more than just legalize the occasional comma splice, break a long list into digestible parts, or signify a wink. It indicates...wait for it...a certain (uh-oh) ambiguity (noooooo!!!) in the connection between ideas. It asks the reader to hold one part of the sentence in suspension while reading the other part. It assumes – brazenly, I know, and often with limited warrant – a certain sophistication in the reader.

It allows for some syncopation of sentence structure, some recognition of the actual flow of words. It facilities the careful and precise delineation of ambiguity, reveling in what lesser minds would consider a contradiction. Used correctly, it's refreshing.

(Yes, I know, semicolons don't actually revel. As an exasperated ex-girlfriend once told me, it's a &^%$%& metaphor.)

Semicolons are so much more interesting than colons. Colons, to me, are a sort of grammatical goose-step. This: is. They take 'declarative' to another level; they're almost dictatorial. Semicolons, like the winks they've come to signify, assume a subtler shared meaning, almost a confidence between writer and reader.

(And don't even get me started on bullet points.)

I'll admit having built up my fair share of linguistic pet peeves over the years. "Irregardless" isn't a word. "A whole nother" makes my flesh crawl. And I think there's a circle of hell reserved for people who routinely start sentences with the words "Being that..."

But semicolons, properly used, still bring a smile. They're linguistic underdogs, and it's fun to see them win.

What's your favorite linguistic underdog?