Sunday, August 11, 2019

The right sort of pause …

… In praise of the semicolon, a most maligned punctuation mark | Spectator USA. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

This isn’t something that can be summed up in a simple rule, and those who have tried over the past 200 years to find rules governing punctuation have failed miserably, as Cecelia Watson shows in the opening chapters of her insightful book. Punctuation tries to capture two incompatible drives: the desire to mark grammatical structure, and the desire to express the dynamic of the speaking voice. The tension between them means that no two people share exactly the same set of preferences. That’s easy to demonstrate. Give a group an unpunctuated page and ask them to mark it up, and you’d be lucky to find two who would do it in exactly the same way.

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