2008-04-08

The Death of The Semicolon

The end is near of ;

In the red corner, desiring nothing less than the consignment of the semicolon to the dustbin of grammatical history, are a pair of treacherous French writers and (of course) those perfidious Anglo-Saxons, for whose short, punchy, uncomplicated sentences, it is widely rumoured, the rare subtlety and infinite elegance of a good semicolon are surplus to requirements. The point-virgule, says legendary writer, cartoonist and satirist Fran├žois Cavanna, is merely "a parasite, a timid, fainthearted, insipid thing, denoting merely uncertainty, a lack of audacity, a fuzziness of thought".

In the blue corner are an array of linguistic patriots who cite Hugo, Flaubert, De Maupassant, Proust and Voltaire as examples of illustrious French writers whose respective oeuvres would be but pale shadows of themselves without the essential point-virgule, and who argue that - in the words of one contributor to a splendidly passionate blog on the topic hosted recently by the leftwing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur - "the beauty of the semicolon, and its glory, lies in the support lent by this particular punctuation mark to the expression of a complex thought".

I maintain that if you write a sentence that needs a semicolon, then it can and possibly should be re-written.

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