Semicolon: How a misunderstood punctuation mark can improve your writing, enrich your reading and even change your life

Semicolon: How a misunderstood punctuation mark can improve your writing, enrich your reading and even change your life
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‘Fascinating… I loved this book; I really did’ David Crystal, Spectator A biography of a much misunderstood punctuation mark and a call to arms in favour of clear expression and against stifling grammar rules. Cecelia Watson used to be obsessive about grammar rules. But then she began teaching. And that was when she realized that strict rules aren’t always the best way of teaching people how to make words say what they want them to; that they are even, sometimes, best ignored. One punctuation mark encapsulates this thorny issue more clearly than any other. The semicolon. Hated by Stephen King, Hemingway, Vonnegut and Orwell, and loved by Herman Melville, Henry James and Rebecca Solnit, it is the most divisive punctuation mark in the English language, and many are too scared to go near it. But why? When is it effective? Have we been misusing it? Should we even care? In this warm, funny, enlightening and thoroughly original book, Cecelia Watson takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the surprising history of the semicolon and explores the remarkable power it can wield, if only we would stop being afraid of it. Forget the rules; you’re in charge. It’s time to make language do what you want it to.

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Cecelia Watson. Semicolon: How a misunderstood punctuation mark can improve your writing, enrich your reading and even change your life

Dedication

Epigraph

Contents

Introduction. Love, Hate and Semicolons

I. Deep History. The Birth of the Semicolon

II. The Science of Semicolons. English Grammar Wars

III. Sexy Semicolons

IV. Loose Women and Liquor Laws. The Semicolon Wreaks Havoc in Boston

V. The Minutiae of Mercy

VI. Carving Semicolons in Stone

VII. Semicolon Savants

THE BIG PAUSE

HEROIN ADDICTS EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME

BLUBBER AND BLATHER

TRUST ME, I’M A WRITER

THE LINE AND THE DASH: WHY USE THE SEMICOLON NOW?

VIII. Persuasion and Pretension. Are Semicolons for Snobs?

Conclusion. Against the Rules?

Acknowledgements

Notes. INTRODUCTION: LOVE, HATE AND SEMICOLONS

I: DEEP HISTORY

II: THE SCIENCE OF SEMICOLONS

III: SEXY SEMICOLONS

IV: LOOSE WOMEN AND LIQUOR LAWS

V: THE MINUTIAE OF MERCY

VI: CARVING SEMICOLONS IN STONE

VII: SEMICOLON SAVANTS

VIII: PERSUASION AND PRETENSION

CONCLUSION: AGAINST THE RULES?

Index

About the Author

About the Publisher

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