September 20, 2005

Hands Off My Colon!

In the Financial Times of all places, Trevor Butterworth has a paean to the joys of the semicolon, and the people who adore and despise it. Count me as one who adores it, I guess. But—and this thought is hardly original—it's worth emphasizing again just how crucial punctuation can be; it's more than just style and rhythm. Every now and again I get hooked on a particular punctuation mark and watch it becomes indispensable not just to the way I write, but the way I actually think. Excessive use of the m-dash means that every complete thought has to—just has to—have another complete thought couched in the middle; just the act of making a straightforward, declarative point becomes a chore. Giving up parentheses would mean giving up those very crucial countless qualifiers and extra expositions—no, wait, I didn't clarify enough, let me cram this one more bit into the sentence! Dependent clauses also become tyrannical. And damned if I know how to emphasize things without italics; massive lifestyle changes would be necessary.

So, you know, when an editor says something like "No semicolon for you!"—as, apparently, Michael Kinsley prefers—it doesn't just clean up the style a bit, it makes it very hard to say anything in the way it needs to be said. It's all very important. Or maybe this is all just the mark of a weak and unversatile writer; oh well.
-- Brad Plumer 1:53 AM || ||