Add to My MSN

Down with the Em-Dash; Long Live the Semicolon!

5/7/2009 4:55:05 PM

Tags: Great Writing, grammar, semicolons, em-dashes, Standpoint

Writers overuse the em-dash—that all too convenient of punctuation marks. By employing the em-dash too often—whether out of laziness or a lack of creativity—they neglect the simple pleasures of the semicolon. Lionel Shriver writes for Standpoint:

These days, the semicolon exudes an aura of the fusty, the fastidious, and the defunct; of mildewed stacks, tight hair buns, and prissily sharpened pencils; of hesitancy, diffidence, and uncertainty, in contrast to the em-dash, which exudes a spirit of strength, flair, and decisiveness.



Related Content

Mapping the F#@% Out of a Sentence

Linguistically, curse words can be both versatile and confusing....

Style Guide Fans Rejoice…and Debate

Mary E. Laur dissects the particular devotion readers feel for The Chicago Manual of Style as its la...

Enduring Infatuations (of the Writerly Sort)

In a delightfully “gigantic, sloppy fan letter,” The Stranger’s books editor Paul Constant recalls h...

How to Fix America: First, Correct the Typos

Now here’s a mission I’d happily support: Two grammar nerds are traveling across the country, cleani...

Content Tools




Post a comment below.

 

Tony Hightower
5/15/2009 10:54:35 AM
Love the comments; as someone who doesn't typically make a distinction between the em-dash and the en-dash -- in an online context it's hard to tell the difference, unless they're side-by-each, which doesn't happen unless you contrive a situation -- this is little more than a kitten-fight: harmless and cute to watch.

Rayne Johnson
5/13/2009 7:59:21 AM
Oh my GOD...are you people SERIOUS??

Tamara SM
5/12/2009 8:56:56 PM
Much as I adore Vonnegut, just because he wasn't comfortable with the semicolon doesn't mean it doesn't have its place. The semicolon obviously has a serious place in clear and concise communication, and the em-dash doesn't replace it at all. It really just replaces the comma.

philg25_2
5/12/2009 1:12:27 PM
The semicolon has never had a serious place clear and concise communication. Leave it for lawyers. The em-dash visually imparts what the voice would, a pause and separation modern readers immediately understand. Listen to Vonnegut.

Willie Wlizlo
5/9/2009 11:03:24 AM
Kurt Vonnegut on semicolons: "Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."



Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!