A biography of a much misunderstood punctuation mark and a call to arms in favour of clear expression and against stifling grammar rules.
Cecelia Watson used to be obsessive about grammar rules. But then she began teaching. And that was when she realised that strict rules aren’t always the best way of teaching people how to make words say what they want them to; that they are even, sometimes, best ignored.
One punctuation mark encapsulates this thorny issue more clearly than any other. The semicolon. Hated by Stephen King, Hemingway, Vonnegut and Orwell, and loved by Herman Melville, Henry James and Rebecca Solnit, it is the most divisive punctuation mark in the English language, and many are too scared to go near it. But why? When is it effective? Have we been misusing it? Should we even care?
In this warm, funny, enlightening and thoroughly original book, Cecelia Watson takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the surprising history of the semicolon and explores the remarkable power it can wield, if only we would stop being afraid of it.
Forget the rules; you’re in charge. It’s time to make language do what you want it to.
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"A lively and varied 'biography' of the semicolon...The stress on compassionate punctuation lifts this work from an entertaining romp to a volume worth serious consideration." (Publishers Weekly)
"Informed and witty...Watson brings a gadfly’s spirit to the proceedings, thoughtfully lobbying for written English that resists restrictions and recognises that 'rules will be, just as they always have been, inadequate to form a protective fence around English.'" (Kirkus)