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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.

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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.

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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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Re: Mind that semicolon

#396917

Postby AF62 » March 18th, 2021, 9:33 pm

bungeejumper wrote:Ah, the Oxford comma.


A tale of it, or rather its absence, costing $5 million - https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way ... sent-comma

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Re: Mind that semicolon

#396919

Postby nmdhqbc » March 18th, 2021, 9:39 pm

i've never known where commas go. i tend to just guess and get it wrong no doubt. also, does anyone know what these two keys with up arrows do?

did i get that one comma right? are there any missing?

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Re: Mind that semicolon

#396992

Postby bungeejumper » March 19th, 2021, 9:01 am

nmdhqbc wrote:i've never known where commas go. i tend to just guess and get it wrong no doubt.

Lynne Truss ("Eats Shoots and Leaves") is on your side. Probably the most coherent authority on English punctuation, she says that there are some situations where there's a definite right or wrong about using a comma, but that otherwise it's largely a matter of personal choice and style. Some folk might say that I shouldn't have inserted that last comma (the one that followed comma :D ). Solicitors, mostly.....

I think of such 'optional' commas as a chance to breathe between main clauses or list items. Here's a snatch of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom, and this is about a quarter of one 1,288 word sentence. Enjoy.

Just exactly like Father if Father had known as much about it the night before I went out there as he did the day after I came back thinking Mad impotent old man who realized at last that there must be some limit even to the capabilities of a demon for doing harm, who must have seen his situation as that of the show girl, the pony, who realizes that the principal tune she prances to comes not from horn and fiddle and drum but from a clock and calendar, must have seen himself as the old wornout cannon which realizes that it can deliver just one more fierce shot and crumble to dust in its own furious blast and recoil, who looked about upon the scene which was still within his scope and compass and saw son gone, vanished, more insuperable to him now than if the son were dead since now (if the son still lived) his name would be different and those to call him by it strangers and whatever dragon’s outcropping of Sutpen blood the son might sow on the body of whatever strange woman would therefore carry on the tradition, accomplish the hereditary evil and harm under another name and upon and among people who will never have heard the right one; daughter doomed to spinsterhood who had chosen spinsterhood already before there was anyone named Charles Bon since the aunt who came to succor her in bereavement and sorrow found neither but instead that calm absolutely impenetrable face between a homespun dress and sunbonnet seen before a closed door and again in a cloudy swirl of chickens while Jones was building the coffin


BJ

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Re: Mind that semicolon

#397003

Postby Arborbridge » March 19th, 2021, 9:28 am

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?

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.

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


Semi-colons are properly used as a separator in a list, so I would say that this is a correct use.

Arb.

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Re: Mind that semicolon

#397072

Postby dealtn » March 19th, 2021, 12:27 pm

Arborbridge wrote:
UncleEbenezer wrote:
bungeejumper wrote:Another dodgy list, this time from the Financial Times, whose punctuation is normally better than most:

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.

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


Semi-colons are properly used as a separator in a list, so I would say that this is a correct use.

Arb.


Semi-colons are used as separators where commas are used within the list for an alternative purpose. Which is the case here. The commas are correctly used to separate each item on the list from a brief description of it (eg. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House). The semi-colons as separators of items on the list. (eg. Nancy Pelosi, Muriel Bowser, ...)

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Re: Mind that semicolon

#397084

Postby Arborbridge » March 19th, 2021, 12:48 pm

dealtn wrote:
Arborbridge wrote:
UncleEbenezer wrote: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.

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


Semi-colons are properly used as a separator in a list, so I would say that this is a correct use.

Arb.


Semi-colons are used as separators where commas are used within the list for an alternative purpose. Which is the case here. The commas are correctly used to separate each item on the list from a brief description of it (eg. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House). The semi-colons as separators of items on the list. (eg. Nancy Pelosi, Muriel Bowser, ...)


That last is not a sentence, so I don't know what it means.

"The personnel consisted of: Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House; Muriel Browser, whoever she is; Mark Twain, famous author; Jean-luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise."

Would be correct enough usage, as I understand it.

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Re: Mind that semicolon

#397090

Postby dealtn » March 19th, 2021, 12:58 pm

Arborbridge wrote:
dealtn wrote:
Arborbridge wrote:

Semi-colons are properly used as a separator in a list, so I would say that this is a correct use.

Arb.


Semi-colons are used as separators where commas are used within the list for an alternative purpose. Which is the case here. The commas are correctly used to separate each item on the list from a brief description of it (eg. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House). The semi-colons as separators of items on the list. (eg. Nancy Pelosi, Muriel Bowser, ...)


That last is not a sentence, so I don't know what it means.

"The personnel consisted of: Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House; Muriel Browser, whoever she is; Mark Twain, famous author; Jean-luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise."

Would be correct enough usage, as I understand it.


We are agreeing with each other. Somehow the last sentence lost a word.

"The semi-colons work as separators of items on the list."


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