Semi-Colon Bashing

Semi-colons are gay?:

Kurt Vonnegut called the marks "transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing." Hemingway and Chandler and Stephen King, said [Ben] McIntyre, "wouldn't be seen dead in a ditch with a semi-colon (though Truman Capote might). Real men, goes the unwritten rule of American punctuation, don't use semi-colons."

As I recall, Mike Kinsley hated them with a passion. At TNR in the old days, he fashioned a key on his computer that would, in one stroke, remove all semi-colons and replace them with a period and a capital letter for the next word; or maybe I remember that wrong. There's more:

Paul Collins, in a recent Slate article, cited a study showing "a stunning drop in semicolon usage between the 18th and 19th centuries, from 68.1 semicolons per thousand words to just 17.7."

You'd think a victory like that would satisfy the anti-semicolon crowd. But no, they keep worrying that those girly, prissy, hermaphroditic punctuation marks will somehow infect their sturdy prose. If semicolons are masculine enough for Melville and Irving, why should they unsettle Barthelme and Vonnegut? Are today's male writers just more insecure than yesterday's about the manliness of their vocation?

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

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