Monday, February 18, 2008

I adore semicolons; they're so redundant, aren't they? While helping college reporters with headlines, ledes, and the basics of grammar, I don't seem them fretting over semicolons much: it's rarely used in journalism unless you're compiling a list or series. They denote a pause, the intake of air, before the final elaboration. Journalism doesn't work that way. Since our culture values concision and pithiness, a bit of punctuation whose overwork by the likes of Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf probably required a moratorium on its use. The only living writer who puts his semicolons through the more traditional paces -- following a conjunction, say -- is Gore Vidal.

Anyway, this article about a grammatically perfect subway station placard made me smile. It didn't make John J. Miller of, where else, The Corner smile, though; maybe he smirked. At any rate, he balked at a quote from linguist/noted anti-imperialist Noah Chomsky, who demonstrates a wry sense of humor.