!;

August 22, 2008

Be a manly writer! Don’t be a girlie scribe; it will lead you into sissy sentences; your writing will be convoluted and your thinking vague:

Butterworth, who had worked in the States, wondered why so many Americans shared Donald Barthelme’s sense that the mark was “ugly as a tick on a dog’s belly.” His answer: As a culture, we Yanks distrust nuance and complexity.

Ben McIntyre, writing in the Times of London a couple of months later, added to the collection of semicolon snubbers: Kurt Vonnegut called the marks “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.” Hemingway and Chandler and Stephen King, said 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.”

There is a controversy later in the post about whether the em dash is masuline or feminine; I’m staying away from that one!

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4 Responses to “!;”

  1. de_tokeville Says:

    Here’s betting Hemingway and Vonnegut didn’t know how to use it.

  2. Harl Delos Says:

    I bow to Victor Borge, the Great Dane, as the punctuational authority of the 20th century. Otherwise, I am reticent, yes, reticent, to acknowledge those who claim to be experts on punctuation.

    The folks at Cosmopolitan magazine, for instance, are cretins when it comes to the ellipse. They don’t know it’s constructed of periods, not question marks or exclamations, and they don’t understand the count involved.

    I’d happily contribute to a charity providing marriage licenses for those using em-dashes.

    And I observe that the British are correct about at least one punctional convention. When you quote someone or something, the only punctuation belonging inside the quote marks (aka “parentheses”) is punctuation you’re quoting

    American publishers of the 19th century started insisting that commas and periods, etc., belong inside the quote marks because too much type was being damaged. For the record, though they may have been what Bloody Mary would have called “stingy stinkers!”, I’m told their mothers were fairly nice doggies.

    Hemmingway was a good story-teller, de_tokeville, but as a grammarian, what he didn’t know about the subject could have filled a book. On the whole, though, Hemmingway made a bigger contribution to literature than any dozen grammarians. Amazon currently lists 17 used copies of Perrin-Smith in hardcover, starting at 20 cents….

    Vonnegut seemed to be a nice enough fellow, and that’s no small accomplishment. “Welcome To The Monkey House” was a nice piece. On the whole, however, Vonnegut had all the subtlety of an 8-pound sledge. I’m pretty sure that Hemingway will be read and honored in the 22nd century. I’m not entirely sure Vonnegut will be. Ditto for Stephen King, Raymond Chandler, Janet Daily, Louis L’Amour. Who reads Bret Harte or Zane Grey these days?

  3. Doug Says:

    Semi-colons are awesome. And the “m” dash is manlier than the “n” dash. Length is important.

  4. Harl Delos Says:

    Awesome? Wow! I can’t remember the last time I saw someone gob-stopped by a semi-colon. Glad to know it has that effect on somebody.

    Typographers don’t recognize ‘m’ dashes and ‘n’ dashes. To them, it’s em-dashes and en-dashes.

    An em-dash is exactly the same width as height, same as an em-quad, also known as a mut. An en-dash is half as wide, the same as an en-quad, also known as a nut. That’s true, regardless of the typeface. However, the size of an ‘m’ or ‘n’ changes with the face.

    For instance, in Bookman IRC Demi Bold, an ‘m’ 16% wider than a mut, and an ‘n’ is 16% wider than a nut.

    And in Century Expanded Bold BT, an ‘m’ is about 57% wider than a mut, while the ‘n’ is about the same size as a nut.

    There’s no indication that em-dashes are less likely to stop and ask for directions, nor more likely to leave the seat up. And if length is important, it appears that Obama has this election won. It’s not only long, but it’s sporty as well.


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