Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What the World Needs Now Is Semicolons

Semicolons are a dying breed of punctuation marks. But there's one person out there who still defends them and uses them properly: Barack Obama. I recently started reading Dreams from My Father, and have been very impressed with Obama's punctuation skills. The creator of this sign could take a lesson from our new president.


Some people say that a comma can separate two short sentences, but I think the sign looks sloppy and should use a semicolon instead. The comma doesn't indicate enough of a pause between the two statements. An em-dash might work, too.

Thanks (again!) to Merry for sending this one in.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about an ellipses...?

Putu said...

I just don't get how people can separate clauses without a conjuction with a mere comma. That's just nonsensical.

THE GRAMMARPHILE said...

Becky, I agree with you on all points! I hate it when someone uses a comma when they SHOULD be using a semicolon!

Carlos said...

I love semicolons and use the hell out of them!

Marie said...

Comma splices. Blech!

Aramink said...

I like to use semicolons. Sometimes a pair of short sentences need to go together to make their point; a semi-colon works perfectly between them.

lizriz said...

OMG I *love* semicolons; They rock the sentence structure.

seattledeb said...

I sooooo agree!

This isn't directly related, but I must also mention how much I hate the ad campaign that uses this tag line: "It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru." Arrrrrrgggggh!

Becky said...

There's a comma in "What makes a Suburu a Suburu"? Weird. I guess I've only ever heard them say it on commercials.

Prayatn said...

Even though semicolons should be used where required, it spoils the visual simplicity and clarity of an advertisement tagline. Which is why I think the copywriter deliberately used the comma instead of the semicolon here.

opusmalone said...

In this rare case, a comma is actually preferable to a semicolon (which I love to bits). This is because the second phrase is the both the consequence and the completion of the initial idea. A semicolon would work, but it would suggest the second idea is merely related to the first idea, providing additional but not vital information. Obviously, a colon would be incorrect. In this example, a period would render the two ideas as independent. Therefore, the comma provided is both a graphical hesitation and a grammatical conjunction (suggesting a displaced "also" in the meaning). And I agree with those who wrote that all proper sentences should be separated by a period; to use a comma is akin to bank robbery. (Do check OED usage of semicolons, however. I have some quibbles with their examples from 1999.)

opusmalone said...

Fresh look at this.

The problem is the layout. A period (full stop) between the two sentences would work best if the first sentence was not sharing the same line as the second sentence. Then the intended insult would have a George Sandersian exhalation and hesitation before delivering the put-down.

Sigh. So many words; such volatile grammar.

jaubertmoniker said...

Yeah, there's actually absolutely nothing wrong with this one. I kind of can't believe you took the time and energy to criticise this particular ad.