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Thread: Semicolons, the scariest punctuation on Earth.

  1. #1
    the philosophical pegasus Shadow Dragon's Avatar
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    Semicolons, the scariest punctuation on Earth.

    This might be the best thing I've ever seen for teaching how to use the semicolon. It uses humor and doesn't come off like you're reading a stiff encyclopedia article.

    Figured that it might help the newbies and some of the vets that have an issue with it.
    "There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance." - Socrates

  2. #2
    And so... Tepelus's Avatar
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    I love The Oatmeal.

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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW trocadero's Avatar
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    That is really a fun page. I'm going to show it to my students. I don't quite understand the connection between the labels, images and the single sentence under 'Pause'. Next to 'semicolon' it has a sentence with a comma in it.

    Looking forward to exploring the rest of the site. Thanks!
    Last edited by trocadero; 12-23-2012 at 10:14 PM.

  4. #4
    The coast is clear Chase's Avatar
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    Oatmeal's examples for semicolon uses are terrific; not so much its early grade school analogies linking some punctuation to magical pauses for breath.

    Emory University Writing Center is typical in de-mythifying one of the many punctuation misconceptions Oatmeal perpetuates with commas, semicolons, and colons:

    Myth: You should add a comma wherever you pause.

    Fact: Where you pause or breathe in a sentence does not reliably indicate where a comma belongs. Different readers pause or breathe in different places.

    The myth-buster holds true for semicolons. Like commas, they are only indicators of internal sentence structure for easier reading.

    As the old fiction disclaimer goes, any similarity to breathing in placing commas or semicolons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  5. #5
    The ever absent-minded CChampeau's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chase View Post

    Emory University Writing Center is typical in de-mythifying one of the many punctuation misconceptions Oatmeal perpetuates with commas, semicolons, and colons:

    Myth: You should add a comma wherever you pause.

    Fact: Where you pause or breathe in a sentence does not reliably indicate where a comma belongs. Different readers pause or breathe in different places.

    The myth-buster holds true for semicolons. Like commas, they are only indicators of internal sentence structure for easier reading. [bold added]
    I added the bold since this is the most important point in understanding how to use commas and semicolons; they're purely grammatical in nature. And I just used a semicolon properly. Semicolons basically define a new sentence, but differ from a period because they imply that the preceding clause (previous sentence) logically leads into the next clause. For example:
    "It's late. We should go home,"
    and
    "It's late; we should go home,"
    are both grammatically correct, but have a different flavor. The latter one emphasizes the connection between the two clauses: "it's late", therefore, "we should go home."

    Semicolons are not strictly necessary in prose. You'd be better off doing away with them than using them where it doesn't feel natural, IMO.
    C. Champeau

    "The truth will set you free."

  6. #6
    The coast is clear Chase's Avatar
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    No disagreement, CC.

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    I write weird stories. phantasy's Avatar
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    I worry about semicolons because I feel I'd rather use a comma. But I'm not sure if my sentence is correct that way.

  8. #8
    Wicked chicken AW Moderator evilrooster's Avatar
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    I've added the Oatmeal page to the list of useful grammar references on the web. Thanks, Shadow Dragon! (Also, apologies for being so damn slow to get to it.)
    An excerpt from Bigglethwaite & Windemere's Manual of Proper and Exquisite English on the Capitalisation of Historical Events.

    The capitalisation of historical terms is a matter of concern to many writers. The rule, though simple, requires and reveals the writer's judgment, opinions, and preconceptions, and should be applied with care:


    1. Matters of absolute importance should be capitalised.
    2. Matters of no wider historical import should have only their proper nouns capitalised.
    3. Matters which the author not only considers insignificant, but wishes had never occurred, should have all words rendered in lower-case.
    4. If the writer looks upon history as a kind of fantastical territory, and wishes to assert either that it is wildly unlikely or highly distorted, all matters that can be considered nouns of any sort should be capitalised


    B&W 2:14

  9. #9
    That hairy-handed gent
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    Quote Originally Posted by phantasy View Post
    I worry about semicolons because I feel I'd rather use a comma. But I'm not sure if my sentence is correct that way.
    The semicolon is not a substitute for a comma, and vice versa. They are used for entirely separate purposes.

    Again I recommend the Purdue OWL:

    http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/566/01/

    caw
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    "Frankly, Toad, I don't give a damn."

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  10. #10
    The coast is clear Chase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    Again I recommend the Purdue OWL: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/566/01/
    I agree wholeheartedly with the birds. The owl is good; the owl is wise.

    The myth of breaths to indicate comma placement advanced by Oatmeal's cartoons is almost as harmful as the old first-aid myths to cut open rattlesnake bites and suck out the poison or to slather butter on burns.

  11. #11
    figuring it all out
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    I have this weird relationship with semicolons, in which I love-love-love them in my informal writing - forum posts, emails, and whatnot - but virtually never use them in my fiction.

  12. #12
    That hairy-handed gent
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    On semicolons (from a teacher of university English composition classes):

    1. They are used, properly, to separate two units of prose that could stand alone as independent sentences, but are closely-enough related to be connected within a single-sentence structure.

    2. They are not strictly necessary. You can separate the two independent portions with a period, and let them stand as single sentences.

    3. A comma is NOT a proper or acceptable substitute for a semicolon, and vice-versa.

    4. If you are uncomfortable with, or uncertain about the proper use of a semicolon, don't use one. Just make independent stand-alone sentences.

    5. Don't overuse the semicolon. It is the habañero pepper of punctuation marks to many people (including editors, whom I will bunch with the larger category of people for the purpose of this comment). Too many will definitely make the dish unpalatable.

    caw
    "Badger! Badger! The weasels have stolen my motor-car!"

    "Frankly, Toad, I don't give a damn."

    -- Gone with the Wind in the Willows

  13. #13
    Conscious Competent. Roden Addison's Avatar
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    The Bible when written had no capitalization, no periods, no commas, no punctuation of any kind. Think its hard to understand now?
    If at first you don't succeed—you're about average.

    The Widow: A Romantic, Erotic Western

  14. #14
    New Fish; Exploring the Written Sea Rbrown8384's Avatar
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    "Stroke them... DO IT!"

    LOL

    Thank you for the share; it was a good read!

  15. #15
    Wicked chicken AW Moderator evilrooster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roden Addison View Post
    The Bible when written had no capitalization, no periods, no commas, no punctuation of any kind. Think its hard to understand now?
    Well, technically, some of the early drafts of the New Testament did include punctuation marks. But punctuation at that time was kind of an optional extra, and copyists omitted it to save space and ink. As far as I am aware, the Old Testament was written without punctuation, word breaks, or, indeed, vowels.

    But in both cases, unpunctuated text was standard. Readers didn't really expect punctuation, and were perfectly comfortable interpreting texts that omitted it. That's not the same as leaving out the punctuation in modern English, where readers do expect and rely on it.

    An analogy: Aristophanes of Byzantium invented a set of diacritics (accents and breath marks) to help non-native speakers read Greek texts. The accents marked where a speaker would use a rising or falling tone when pronouncing a word. A rough equivalent in English would be if it became the practice to mark word stress and dieresis* in written text.

    We don't do that. If someone introduced it in the future, só thát áll óur próse inclúded diäcrítics, wóuld thát méan thát éarliër, unmárked téxt wás "hárd tó understánd"?

    Also, we are breezing right by any discussion of the content of the Bible in this room. There are other rooms on AW for that.

    ----
    * Note that in Dutch, dieresys is marked using a "trema": Daniel is spelled Daniël, because ie is a very different sound in Dutch than i+e. Indeed, English used to mark it as well: coöperative only lost its diacritic very recently.
    Last edited by evilrooster; 01-30-2013 at 04:45 PM. Reason: pút óne diäcrític márk ón thé wróng sýllable
    An excerpt from Bigglethwaite & Windemere's Manual of Proper and Exquisite English on the Capitalisation of Historical Events.

    The capitalisation of historical terms is a matter of concern to many writers. The rule, though simple, requires and reveals the writer's judgment, opinions, and preconceptions, and should be applied with care:


    1. Matters of absolute importance should be capitalised.
    2. Matters of no wider historical import should have only their proper nouns capitalised.
    3. Matters which the author not only considers insignificant, but wishes had never occurred, should have all words rendered in lower-case.
    4. If the writer looks upon history as a kind of fantastical territory, and wishes to assert either that it is wildly unlikely or highly distorted, all matters that can be considered nouns of any sort should be capitalised


    B&W 2:14

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