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Posts Tagged ‘punctuation

“I have a great respect for the semicolon; it’s a very useful little chap.”*…

 

semicolon

 

Consider the semicolon. It’s beloved by some and assailed by others; in the annals of punctuation lore, no other symbol has sparked as much debate. A handful of years ago it was even the subject of a very funny parody song by The Lonely Island and Solange that poked fun at hashtag rap. (Though, in fairness to the semicolon, the song’s punchline is that it was using the semicolon incorrectly all along.) In her new book Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, Cecelia Watson ventures into the long history and usage of semicolons, and the results are tremendously enlightening.

Semicolon is a slim book, but it deftly covers a lot of ground. Watson explores the origin of the semicolon, demonstrates how it’s gone in and out of linguistic favor over the centuries, and thoughtfully explored how a host of disparate writers — including Rebecca Solnit, Irvine Welsh, and Martin Luther King, Jr. — have memorably used it in their work. Watson also explores some of the surprisingly severe impacts the semicolon has had on society, such as the semicolon in a Massachusetts law that wreaked havoc on the state’s alcohol consumption, or the way the semicolon in a judicial sentence caused one man’s life to hang in the balance…

Tobias Carroll gets the lowdown from Cecelia Watson on how she learned to stop worrying and love the semicolon: “My Teachers Said We Weren’t Allowed To Use Them.”

* Abraham Lincoln

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As we pause to connect, we might spare a thought for Georges Joseph Christian Simenon; he died on this date in 1984.  A prolific author (who published nearly 500 novels and numerous short works), he is best known as the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret.  His work is featured in the collection La Pléiade (inspiration for the Library of America), and in 1966 he was awarded the Mystery Writers of America’shighest honor, the Grand Master Award.

Georges_Simenon_(1963)_without_hat_by_Erling_Mandelmann

SIMENON, Georges, 1963, Ecrivain (F) © ERLING MANDELMANN ©

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Written by LW

September 4, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit … a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in space”…

 

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Three months ago, I was a normal person. Now all I think about 24-7 is the dinkus. Did you know that dinkuses is an anagram of unkissed? I did. For the uninitiated, the dinkus is a line of three asterisks (* * *) used as a section break in a text. It’s the flatlining of an asterism (⁂), which in literature is a pyramid of three asterisks and in astronomy is a cluster of stars.

The dinkus has none of the asterism’s linguistic association with the cosmos, but that’s why I love it. Due to its proximity to the word dingus, which means, to define one ridiculous word with another, “doodad,” dinkus likely evolved from the Dutch and German ding, meaning “thing.” To the less continental ear, dinkus sounds slightly dirty, and I can confirm that it’s brought serious academics to giggles.

For me, a writer and reader, its crumbiness is its appeal. I need some crumbs to lure me down the page…

Daisy Alioto‘s “Ode to the Dinkus.”

* James Joyce, Ulysses

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As we separate our sections, we might recall that it was on this date in 1248 that The University of Oxford received its Royal Charter from King Henry III.   While it has no known date of foundation, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation (after the University of Bologna).

The university operates the world’s oldest university museum, as well as the largest university press in the world, and the largest academic library system in Britain.  Oxford has educated many notable alumni, including 29 Nobel laureates, 27 prime ministers of the United Kingdom, and many heads of state and government around the world.  Sixty-nine Nobel Prize winners, 4 Fields Medalists, and 6 Turing Award winners have studied, worked, or held visiting fellowships at Oxford.

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Written by LW

June 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Space: the final frontier”*…

 

This is a time of much division. Families and communities are splintered by polarizing narratives. Outrage surrounds geopolitical discourse—so much so that anxiety often becomes a sort of white noise, making it increasingly difficult to trigger intense, acute anger. The effect can be desensitizing, like driving 60 miles per hour and losing hold of the reality that a minor error could result in instant death.

One thing that apparently still has the power to infuriate people, though, is how many spaces should be used after a period at the end of an English sentence.

The war is alive again of late because a study that came out this month from Skidmore College. The study is, somehow, the first to look specifically at this question. It is titled: “Are Two Spaces Better Than One? The Effect of Spacing Following Periods and Commas During Reading.”…

Find out the truth at “The Scientific Case for Two Spaces After a Period.”

* the words opening each episode of Star Trek

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As your correspondent basks in confirmation, we might recall that it was in 1770 that Germany and France moved past 30 years of animosity, celebrating their new alliance with the marriage of Archduchess Marie “let them eat cake” Antionette and Dauphin Louis-Auguste de France (soon enough to become King Louis XVI), in a lavish ceremony at Versailles, in front of more than 5000 guests.

A torrential thunderstorm pre-empted the fireworks planned for that evening; but the celebration continued through May 30th, when fireworks on Place de la Concorde killed 132 people– a grim omen of a reign that would prove tragic.

Marie Antoinette in her wedding dress, which was adorned with white diamonds

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Written by LW

May 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If commas are open to interpretation, hyphens are downright Delphic”*…

 

The tilde is 3,000 years old, but is there any grapheme that’s more ~of the times~? The little traveling worm, originally designed to convey approximation (and used in Spanish and Portuguese to denote certain sounds), expresses so much more: strangeness, emotional and physical distance — but perhaps most importantly, sarcasm…

The twisted mark’s twisted story in its entirety at “The Internet Tilde Perfectly Conveys Something We Don’t Have the Words to Explain.”

– Mary Norris (the New Yorker‘s “Comma Queen”)

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As we move our fingers to the upper left of our keyboards, we might send rib-tickling birthday greetings to Moses Harry Horwitz; he was born on this date in 1897.  Better known by his stage name, “Moe Howard,” he was the de facto leader of The Three Stooges, both on stage and off.

Moe, flanked by Curly and Larry, in The Three Stooge’s classic “Disorder in the Court

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Written by LW

June 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Punctuation, is? fun!”*…

 

The average tweet is not an especially remarkable thing. It can contain letters (and almost always does), marks of punctuation (perhaps more of an acquired taste in this context), and pictures (mostly of cats and/or the photographer themselves). But in amongst these most conventional components of modern written communication are two special symbols around which orbits the whole edifice of Twitter. Neither letters nor marks of punctuation, the @- and #-symbols scattered throughout Twitter’s half billion daily messages are integral to its workings. And yet, they have always been interlopers amongst our written words.

Both ‘@’ and ‘#’ first crept into view during the Renaissance…

Old friend Keith Houston provides “A brief history of the # and the @.”

* Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon

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As we hit the shift key, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that Time Magazine acquired The Literary Digest— or its one remaining asset of value, its mailing list.  Founded by Isaac Kaufmann Funk in 1890, then published by his company, Funk & Wagnalls, The Literary Digest was an influential general interest publication the grew in influence (its circulation topped 1 million) with it election polling.  Starting in 1920, it conducted straw polls, all accurately predicting the outcomes of presidential elections…  until 1936, when its poll called the race a likely landslide victory for Governor Alfred Landon of Kansas.  In the event, of course, it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was re-elected by a landslide– a result accurately predicted by a start-up polling company, George Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion.

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