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

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Horrors of Rat Hole Mining

"The river was our source of water. Now, the people won't touch it."

Video

What's Your Favorite Slang Word?

From "swag" to "on fleek," tweens choose.

Video

Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.

Video

Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.

Video

How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

Just In