(Roughly) Daily

“I’m tired of wasting letters when punctuation will do, period.”*…

 source: Flickr/Tom Magliery.

I’ve noticed that I use semicolons a lot. That punctuational rut is partly a consequence of the years I spent in grad school reading the Victorian Sages (Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, William Morris), who were capable of raging on in pages-long, semicolon-studded sentences about the evils of the Industrial Revolution. But there’s more to it than that. The semicolon is my psychological metaphor, my mascot. It’s the punctuation mark that qualifies, hesitates, and ties together ideas and parts of a life that shot off in different directions. I come from a world where most people still don’t read or hear what I have to say about books because they are oblivious to or downright suspicious of NPR, The New York Times, and all the other educated, upper-middle-class outlets where popular conversations about literature and culture take place; I now spend most of my time in a world where most people know who Stanley Fish is but have only the haziest notion of (and are even less interest in) what a shop steward does.

– Author, professor, and NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan

[To T. E. Lawrence, on Seven Pillars of Wisdom:] You practically do not use semicolons at all. This is a symptom of mental defectiveness, probably induced by camp life.

– George Bernard Shaw

More lexicographical love at “Writers’ Favorite Punctuation Marks.”

Feeling syntactically savvy?  Take the Obscure Punctuation Quiz

* “I’m tired of wasting letters when punctuation will do, period.” – Steve Martin


As we pledge ourselves to punctiliousness, we might spare a thought for Sarah Winnemucca; she died on this date in 1891 (as attested here, though some other sources give October 17).  The daughter of Chief Winnemucca of the Northern Paiute people, and originally known by her Paiute name, Thocmetony (Shell Flower), Sarah was educated in the homes of U.S. Army officers who befriended her family.  She became a prominent Native American activist and educator, and was the first Native American woman to secure a copyright and to publish in the English language (an autobiographical book, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, that tells of her people’s experiences during their first forty years of contact with white explorers and settlers– and that employs the full range of punctuation marks).


Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 14, 2012 at 1:04 am

%d bloggers like this: