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The French consider getting rid of the semicolon

In her blog, Maitresse, fellow Gridskipper contributor Lauren Elkin details the possibility of France banishing the semicolon (no word on where it would go, although the obvious guess is the island of Elba).

I don’t speak French (and I have the report cards from high school and college to prove it, although I am about to study it again). But in English the semicolon, while often misunderstood and misused, serves a unique purpose (joining two independent phrases without a conjunction).

It’s also useful when writing a comma-separated list and some of the items themselves contain commas. (For example, “I have lived in Washington, DC; Boston, MA; and Winston-Salem, NC.”) So it’s interesting to contemplate what English would be like without the semicolon.

Also, before reading Lauren’s post, I had no idea that languages might treat the same piece of punctuation differently.

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One Response to The French consider getting rid of the semicolon

  1. John@123-reg April 18, 2008 at 9:28 am #

    There was an interesting piece about this in the Guardian over here in the UK last week:

    I like it when writers use the semicolon; sometimes it’s entirely superfluous, but it looks good.