Why semicolons are lovely and colons less so

Em-dash all the way. Alt + 0151.


The long space (or typographically, double-space) also makes documents much more readable, especially if you’re scanning a long paragraph looking for something particular. It makes it very easy to spot the beginning of a sentence.


Oh gods, I just opened a box and a cloud of unicode dash fanboys came out, to plague the earth for all eternity. Oopsie, my bad.

I was going to say my keyboard has none of these. But it probably has. After many years (over 40) of programming, I was wanting to put some of them fancy unicode symbols into my code. But how to do it? I could find no obvious support in the standard libraries. It turns out that you just type in the symbol (C-x 8 RET in emacs & type hex or character name), and it is just handled by the text editor, the compiler, linker, and the resulting program. A character isn’t a byte, and hasn’t been for years; but I had somehow managed to miss all of this. Ehu fugaces labuntur anni…


I would just be happy if the ellipses ended up in the correct places in a sentence. Is that so hard…?

(I blame computer loading screens ticking off dots — to prove that the program hasn’t stalled — for inspiring a lot of careless ellipses after end punctuation.)


You’re the one who said people should use dashes in the first place! :wink:

Hyphens weren’t dashes a long time before unicode ever existed.


Dashes are usually easily done via the ALT(gr) key. On Mac, at least the German settings, it’s “-” , ALT-“-” and SHIFT-ALT-“-”. Though some programs or keyboard settings just treat two more three hyphens as a ligature.

Though I guess that using so-called “proper” typographic signs and correcting wrong ones is simply some kind of classism.

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Indeed, your point is correct if one is inhabiting the world of Strunk and White!

But I tend to follow the lead of novelists and poets, who use the semicolon in not just this listy fashion, but for purposes even yet more fantastick and byzantine.

That said, it’s why I never fight the copyeditors at Wired or the NYT or whatnot; they do have to live in the world of Strunk and White.


[face contorts with such righteous umbrage that monocle lens pops out of frame]


Not Strunk & White. Screw those guys. Strunk was no grammarian; he was a schoolteacher. And White was his unquestioning fanboy. I’m talking Chicago Manual of Style, son! The standard for all book publishing. The cudgel we production editors use to keep those unruly novelists in line.

Although, I agree that it’s not worth it to fight the editors at Wired or the NYT. They’re using AP Style, so they might as well be scrawling nonsense on caves with their poop.


i use ellipsis quite frequently when i’m quoting here to show that i have edited away some portion of the sentence. i do this so that i can make clear to what portion of the previous comment i am discussing while also making clear that the quoted passage is in some way incomplete.


Now you’re just trolling.


pretty sure NYT and Wired both have their own stylistic dogmata


As a rule I use a double dash for that – I was trained to use it by word processing programs – and I use it all the time; I can’t quite tell you when or why I choose it over come or parens, it’s just a feeling.

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“how they loosely tie together loosely related ideas”

What? No. Semicolons tightly tie closely related ideas. The semicolon says the juxtaposition of these two ideas is intentional and important because they are related.

Where did you get the idea that is was for “loosely” connecting “loosely related ideas”?

And maybe that’s why semicolons are out of style: Nobody agrees on what they mean or how they’re used.

One writer friend of my uses semicolons in dialogue, and it drives me crazy. Semicolons are an artifact of the written word only; nobody speaks semicolons.


That practice is mostly an artifact of the pre-digital days since the monospaced fonts on most mechanical typewriters needed all the help they could get in terms of readability. It’s frowned upon by most typesetters these days.


Yes, that is its proper use. I do recall being instructed exactly once in the use of the five-period ellipsis, supposedly for use when making a quote that leaves out one or more complete sentences. But that was some 25 years ago, when I was first introduced to APA and MLA. I am pleased that I find myself in a position where I do not have to deal with such things regularly.

I do quite like the boxed ellipsis […]. Properly caged, with no chance of escape. And the old-fashioned <snip> is nice too.


This was one of Danny Wallace’s facts on Sunday :nerd_face:



All US book publishing, perhaps…