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Mind that semicolon

Mind that apostrophe.
bungeejumper
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Mind that semicolon

#376944

Postby bungeejumper » January 14th, 2021, 10:51 am

Another dodgy list, this time from the Financial Times, whose punctuation is normally better than most:
Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House; Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington; and Mr Biden. (https://www.ft.com/content/eb6e209a-d0f ... bd92dc4976)

Or is it just me who initially read this as meaning that the president-elect was on the suspect list?

BJ

UncleEbenezer
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Re: Mind that semicolon

#377015

Postby UncleEbenezer » January 14th, 2021, 11:53 am

bungeejumper wrote:Another dodgy list, this time from the Financial Times, whose punctuation is normally better than most:
Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House; Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington; and Mr Biden. (https://www.ft.com/content/eb6e209a-d0f ... bd92dc4976)

Or is it just me who initially read this as meaning that the president-elect was on the suspect list?

BJ

Those semicolons don't parse: they're clearly meant to be commas.

No, I can't even momentarily parse it as listing Mr Biden as a suspect. A colon would punctuate that, but a colon in place of either of those rogue semicolons is itself problematic. The one in front of Mr Biden is ruled out by the "and". The one in front of Muriel Bowser could in principle list two suspects if the other were a comma, though that leaves the mild cognitive dissonance of listing two "armed men" one of whom is named Muriel.

Gengulphus
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Re: Mind that semicolon

#377240

Postby Gengulphus » January 14th, 2021, 6:48 pm

UncleEbenezer wrote:
bungeejumper wrote:Another dodgy list, this time from the Financial Times, whose punctuation is normally better than most:
Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House; Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington; and Mr Biden. (https://www.ft.com/content/eb6e209a-d0f ... bd92dc4976)

Or is it just me who initially read this as meaning that the president-elect was on the suspect list?

Those semicolons don't parse: they're clearly meant to be commas.

No, I can't even momentarily parse it as listing Mr Biden as a suspect. A colon would punctuate that, but a colon in place of either of those rogue semicolons is itself problematic. The one in front of Mr Biden is ruled out by the "and". The one in front of Muriel Bowser could in principle list two suspects if the other were a comma, though that leaves the mild cognitive dissonance of listing two "armed men" one of whom is named Muriel.

The way to parse it as listing Mr Biden as a suspect is as:

Among those so far arrested and charged are

* armed men who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House;

* Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington; and

* Mr Biden.

squashed down to a single line (or probably a few lines if you're viewing it on a narrower screen than I am). Arguably that's not ideal punctuation because the introduction to a bullet list should end with a colon, but I'm not certain whether that's actually an established punctuation rule, or instead something like the serial comma (aka Oxford comma or Harvard comma) where there isn't really an established rule, just competing conventions.

Just using commas instead of the semicolons doesn't really solve the problem, though, as the resulting "Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington, and Mr Biden." is highly ambiguous. The list could be a list of those arrested and charged or alternatively a list of those who the armed men allegedly threatened to kill, and in either case each of the two phrases "the speaker of the House" and "the Democratic mayor of Washington" could either be a separate person in the list or a parenthetical explanation of who the person just named is. I.e. the sentence could mean any of:

"Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men (who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi (the speaker of the House), Muriel Bowser (the Democratic mayor of Washington), and Mr Biden)."
"Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men (who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, Muriel Bowser (the Democratic mayor of Washington), Mr Biden, and the speaker of the House)."
"Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men (who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi (the speaker of the House), Muriel Bowser, Mr Biden, and the Democratic mayor of Washington)."
"Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men (who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, Muriel Bowser, Mr Biden, and both the speaker of the House and the Democratic mayor of Washington)."
"Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men (who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House), Muriel Bowser (the Democratic mayor of Washington), and Mr Biden."
"Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men (who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi), Muriel Bowser (the Democratic mayor of Washington), Mr Biden, and the speaker of the House."
"Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men (who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House), Muriel Bowser, Mr Biden, and the Democratic mayor of Washington."
"Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men (who allegedly threatened to kill Nancy Pelosi), Muriel Bowser, Mr Biden, and both the speaker of the House and the Democratic mayor of Washington."

using parentheses to indicate which bits are parenthetical explanations rather than overloading commas with both that task and the task of separating items in the lists. I would however not favour using any of the first four of those sentences (the first of which is of course the intended meaning), as the use of nested parenthetical explanations is rather ugly and requires the reader to keep track of more incomplete sentences than necessary. Instead, I would break the sentences up by rewording them along "Among those so far arrested and charged are armed men. Those men allegedly threatened to kill ..." lines.

Gengulphus

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Re: Mind that semicolon

#377314

Postby servodude » January 15th, 2021, 1:27 am

I can think of a few ways to fix it, in no particular order: a colon, one of my favourite underused punctuation marks; rewriting it, to avoid a list whose elements contain commas; and a bulleted list, which if anything gives me more joy than using colon (though I will often use them together).

- sd
EDIT: to avoid accidental emojification

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Re: Mind that semicolon

#378524

Postby Bminusrob » January 19th, 2021, 9:20 am

Definitely should be commas and I can only assume the last semi-colon in the list is an Oxford semi-colon, instead of an Oxford comma.

bungeejumper
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Re: Mind that semicolon

#378561

Postby bungeejumper » January 19th, 2021, 11:31 am

Bminusrob wrote:Definitely should be commas and I can only assume the last semi-colon in the list is an Oxford semi-colon, instead of an Oxford comma.

Ah, the Oxford comma. Where would we be without it? Memories of the Times's famous account of a Peter Ustinov programme: "Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector". :lol:

BJ


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