In defence of the semicolon

I spent the afternoon defending a semicolon. My opponent asked if it were perhaps a typo. I assured him it was not. He reminded me that it was a colon in the original. “I am aware of that,” I replied. As many are prone to do, he assumed that my English translation would adopt the same punctuation as his original German text. Translating a text, however, is not “a matter of words only…a matter of making intelligible a whole culture” as Anthony Burgess once wrote; it is also a matter of punctuation.

The laws governing punctuation are not universal. Perhaps I was always drawn to German because the language is accepting of the comma splice, which is something I always got wrong on my English papers in high school. The German writer, on the other hand, seems to have a special affinity for the colon. These are just two opportunities where my own partiality for the semicolon is put to good use, which I am quite willing to defend if need be.


3 responses to “In defence of the semicolon

  1. Semicolons are a delightful, necessary element of the English language that most Germans haven’t a chance of mastering. They’re too busy getting sloshed and falling through their cascading colons. Someone should tell these people that one colon per sentence is quite enough and usually too much.

  2. We, Spaniards, have also forgotten the use of semicolons.

    I love the first sentence of the post. I’d read any novel with that beginning.

  3. I love the semi-colon! And Kevin – cascading colons sounds like a very painful disease…

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