Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark (Hardcover)

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9780062853059

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A page-turning, existential romp through the life and times of the world’s most polarizing punctuation mark.324

The semicolon. Stephen King, Hemingway, Vonnegut, and Orwell detest it. Herman Melville, Henry James, and Rebecca Solnit love it. But why? When is it effective? Have we been misusing it? Should we even care?

In Semicolon, Cecelia Watson charts the rise and fall of this infamous punctuation mark, which for years was the trendiest one in the world of letters. But in the nineteenth century, as grammar books became all the rage, the rules of how we use language became both stricter and more confusing, with the semicolon a prime victim. Taking us on a breezy journey through a range of examples—from Milton’s manuscripts to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail” to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep—Watson reveals how traditional grammar rules make us less successful at communicating with each other than we’d think. Even the most die-hard grammar fanatics would be better served by tossing the rule books and learning a better way to engage with language.

Through her rollicking biography of the semicolon, Watson writes a guide to grammar that explains why we don’t need guides at all, and refocuses our attention on the deepest, most primary value of language: true communication.

More Information
ISBN 9780062853059
Publisher Harper Collins Publishers
Publication Date Jul 30, 2019
Pages (number) 224
Genre N/A
Author Cecelia Watson
Signed No
Format Hardcover
Editorial Reviews

“A deceptively playful-looking book that turns out to be a scholarly treatise on a sophisticated device that has contributed eloquence and mystery to Western civilization . . . Delightful.” - Mary Norris, The New Yorker

“Lively . . . Watson covers impressive ground in this short book, skittering back and forth like a sandpiper at the shores of language’s Great Debates. . . fascinating.” - New York Times

“What? Sit on the beach reading about punctuation? Yes, when it’s as fun, rangy, and witty as this.” - Philadelphia Inquirer

“Pity the poor semicolon, punctuation’s wallflower, wrongfully maligned and too seldom asked to dance. Fortunately, this modest little powerhouse has found its defender. [Watson] is a witty, elegant writer with no nonsense about her.” - New York Times Book Review

“Delightful, enlightening . . . The twisty history of the hybrid divider perfectly embodies the transience of language, the ways it can be shaped by cultural shifts that have nothing to do with correctness or clarity.” - Vulture

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