So Ian Jack responds to the charges made by Trevor Butterworth in the Financial times that "a tell-tale sign of the difference between certain kinds of British English and American English writing . . . is that because semi-colons give a sentence nuance and complexity they are liked here and despised there."
Hmmm . . . granted, Butterworth’s argument may be more, nuanced, than Jack is representing it, but from what he says it sounds pretty ridiculous.
After than, Jack gives us a little history on the semi-colon.
The role of punctuation was to signify the quality of the pause – how long, how short, how final – and had few implications for the grammar of what came before or after. Parkes says the semi-colon was the result of a search for "a finer discrimination" between the pauses suggested by the colon and the mark that became the modern comma, and reflected "the needs of those who were accustomed to the habit of silent reading" rather than declamation.
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