Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The dash is the new semicolon

After a comment about dashes after the previous post, I'm inclined to share a pet peeve.

I recoil when two independent clauses are joined with a dash. It's a dash splice, like the comma splice we all learned to hate in junior high. If the comma splice is universally derided, can not the dash splice follow in its course?

Why "What happened was not very good -- we all just got a bit carried away"? What's wrong with making that two sentences?

And, the more I think about it, a lot of that talk in the Financial Times article I wrote about yesterday is poppycock. James Wolcott said: "The semicolon adds a note of formality, and informality has been all the rage for decades. 'Real' writing is butch and cinematic, so emphatic and declarative that it has no need of these rest stops or hinges between phrases."

We have lost a lot of our love for formality. But no need for "hinges between phrases"? You must be joking.

I'm starting to think that maybe dashes are the new semicolons.


At 3:15 AM, September 21, 2005, Anonymous Nik said...

If semicolons are seen to add a note of formality it's probably because they indicate the writer knows a thing or two about writing. By contrast dashes are easy -- just a single strong stroke -- and therefore perhaps suggest the butchness mentioned.

(Footnote 1: "Dashes are the new semicolon"? I'll raise you an apostrophe and suggest that exclamation marks are the new ampersand.)

(Footnote 2: I wonder if it's right that a plural (dashes) can be a new singular (semicolon).)

At 8:14 AM, September 21, 2005, Blogger the DP said...

I overuse dashes.

At 1:59 PM, September 21, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Oh, Nik, I thought twice about a plural being the new singular. I decided when I was writing the entry that I didn't like "The dash is the new semicolon." Of course, by the time I wrote the title of th post, I'd obviously decided it was OK.

In any case, you're right. I've changed the entry to "dashes are the new semicolons."

At 6:21 PM, September 28, 2005, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

This isn't a completely new development. "Working With Words," one of the better grammar books for journalists, has been labeling this sentence as "right" for a number of years:
The Padres are weak this year -- they have the worst record in the league.

And this its authors label "right, but not common in journalism":
The Padres are weak this year; they ahve the worst record in the league.

Balderdash. Why we fear the semicolon beats me. I barely notice it in its proper use. The dash is the one that assaults me.


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