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The Semicolon

Cool article in yesterday’s New York Times about the semicolon. Seems a New York City Transit employee used one in an advertisement placard he wrote for the subway. Here’s the sentence asking riders to put their newspapers in the trash:  “Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”

Seems simple, but it’s attracting attention. Proper use of the semicolon has gone by the wayside. And what is the proper use of a semicolon, you ask? According to the article, a semicolon is

that distinct division between statements that are closely related but require a separation more prolonged than a conjunction and more emphatic than a comma.

And lest you think the semicolon is unimportant except to writerly geeks such as me, consider this:

People have lost fortunes and even been put to death because of imprecise punctuation involving semicolons in legal papers. 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.

It’s a fun article. Read it. Enjoy it. Learn to use a semicolon; you’ll be glad you did.

And then there’s this hilarious correction at the end of the article:

An article in some editions on Monday about a New York City Transit employee’s deft use of the semicolon in a public service placard was less deft in its punctuation of the title of a book by Lynne Truss, who called the placard a “lovely example” of proper punctuation. The title of the book is “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” — not “Eats Shoots & Leaves.” (The subtitle of Ms. Truss’s book is “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.”)

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