High School English with a Twist

The musings of Susan E dot Cohen

Category: Grammar

Semi-Interested in the Semicolon

The semicolon is semi-new to me. Until recently, I rarely thought about or used this punctuation mark. I know this may be surprising, and I question how this even occurred. For years, I must have read (over) many semicolons and took them at face value without giving them very much thought. I definitely did not accept Microsoft Word’s offering them to me when checking spelling, which meant I wrote many academic papers and articles without a single semicolon appearance. I find myself amazed at how long I seemed to have left it alone. However, the semicolon has come to my attention and with this has come uncertainty about why I find it so foreign.

My quasi-discovery of the semicolon began this summer. While reading articles and books, I saw this punctuation mark everywhere. It was as if every writer had decided to use one (or several) in their article or book in 2015. I doubt the semicolon is suddenly trendy this year, but I want to believe more writers are utilizing this punctuation mark now than ever before. I know this cannot be and is simply me looking for an external explanation. The reality is I just became more aware of the semicolon, which might have occurred at the same time there was a slight increase in usage. I will leave the answer on quantity of usage to someone looking for a dissertation topic.

The semicolon uncertainty is centered around whether I ever formally learned how to use one. Maybe there was a lesson on them at some point in my years of education, but I am really not sure. I do recall pondering them once in high school, but it was fleeting and in the context of a peer’s paper. This is quite similar to my questions about my contraction education. In case anyone is wondering, my contacting has improved. I now know how to make all sorts of contractions, but there are some that will always be made purposefully (example: she’d) and not naturally. This is neither here nor there.

The more I see the semicolon, the more I think about it. I have concluded that for me, the semicolon is mysterious. It is a punctation mark that was always there, but I never punctuated with and therefore, it seems like a novelty. I approach it with a bit of uncertainty and marvel. I wonder why is everyone else using semicolons? Does it possess powers I have yet to discover? Is it possible that I missed the semicolon memo? Do some writers use the semicolon because they see other writers using them, or do they see a true need for this punctuation mark in their writing? How many of people are truly using it correctly? Beyond that, I just keep wondering why I never thought about it.

Since I believe I was never taught how to use a semicolon, I decided it was time to learn about this punctuation mark. I have done my semicolon due diligence. I read about how to use one, studied how other writers incorporate it in their work, and then started to experiment with it in my work. I have concluded that semicolons are useful; I might begin to use them in my writing. At the same, I do not want to use it to use it. I want to punctuate with purpose.

Time will tell whether I begin to punctuate with this mark. Perhaps I will always be a period and conjunction kind of writer. For now, I remain semi-interested in the semicolon; the semi-new punctation mark I recently discovered.


Answering An Admissions Question

I found the following article on the Twitterverse, “Tufts Is Asking Its Applicants ‘What Does #YOLO Mean to You?’” This seems like a tough (which actually sound like Tufts – trying for a pun) question. The answer needs to be interesting without being crazy. It needs to give enough insight, but not enough to have your application thrown in the “no” pile. Basically, Tufts has found a way to look like it’s staying hip and relating to its applicants, when in fact, Tufts is just masquerading a “cool” question as a means to differentiate thousands of applicants with the same SAT score from each other. One smart admissions office.

If I had to respond to this question in 200 words, I might just write that acronyms can be extra-grammatical and therefore can be analyzed linguistically. With this perspective, one does not have to view YOLO as pertaining to oneself, but as it relates to the study of morphology. I definitely think that would get me in. Then again, I learned all of that in graduate school. Go figure.

Grammar as Told by Susan E dot Cohen

I have been writing your welcome wrong. I was informed of this over Gchat last week after posting a “your welcome” on Facebook. Technology is definitely picking up the educational system’s slack. What makes that mistake even worse is that I thought “your welcome” was right. Even worse is that I graduated from Barnard. The shame. Some might call for my degree to be revoked, especially those who graduated from Columbia.

I also make the “your” for “you’re” mistake when welcome is absent. Evidence of this comes from countless corrections from Meghan (if you do not know Meghan, you should) on Gchat. All of which I have ignored. I also failed to learn from a “your” for “you’re” email mistake, which occurred  when I sent out a group email with “you know your…” The mistake led to prompt corrections by email and phone as well as a friend asking me on Gchat if “your” for “you’re” was a linguistic thing. I had to write back that it was not some linguistic thing. It was simply just me. I quickly sent a group email thanking those who had pointed out my error. However, as great a grammar lesson as it was, I forgot about it and proceeded to continue making the mistake. I clearly have a little problem with “your” and “you’re.” Admitting is the first step.

I want to believe the reason for my error stems from a lack of contractions in my colloquial writing. Sure I use the standard faire such as I’m, I’ll, what’s, that’s, it’s, let’s, can’t and don’t while gchatting, texting on Facebook, and occasionally when emailing.  However, I never use you’ll, we’ll, he’ll, she’ll, you’d, we’d, he’d, she’d, they’re, they’ve, and so on. I even had to look up some of these contractions. How ridiculous that these contractions are foreign to me. They are practically exotic to me. When I see friends type them on Gchat or read them on blogs, I am always amazed. I am in awe of their ability to contract. I am in awe of their command of the English language. Each time I see one of these contractions, I question my English abilities. If you want to look smart to me, just make a contraction in a text. You will go to the head of my class.

Even if given the option of  selecting from my small repertoire (idiolect) of contraction for an article, I will not (see no won’t). I prefer to write out will not or do not. Although not a preference, in articles I write “you are” if the article is directed at the reader. I have several articles under the Published tab on this self-publishing space that have “you are” all over them. This is a little bit of a paradox. I use “you are” but then contract it incorrectly to “your.” I am also aware that “your” is possessive. Yet, I do not see an issue with “your welcome.” I should know you cannot possess the welcome.

I do use contractions when I am speaking. We all do. My ability to contract while speaking is evidence that I know how to contract. If you asked me how to make the contraction she’s, I would not think twice. I clearly know how to do it, but I think there is a disjoint  between contracting when I speak and when I write. Perhaps this disjoint is the root of the problem.

When I say “you’re welcome” (already using correctly), I hear the r and do not realize that the r results from “you are” becoming “you’re.” To me, it is simply your. How I hear it may have led to my thinking “your welcome” is correct. The step to make the contraction is lost in the translation between my inner monologue and the paper. If there is truth to this theory, which I think there is, I have a problem with contracting when I write. If this is the case, I would be reliant on being corrected. I would need to learn to write “you’re welcome.” I have my doubts on this theory. I had to have learned it. Maybe I just forgot it?

I would like to think that somewhere, in my files from elementary school, there is a “you’re welcome” hiding on those jumbo elementary ruled pages with dotted lines. I must have learned to contract you are to “you’re” and learned she’ll, they’vre, they’re, and the rest of the contractions. I must have used them regularly in my class journals and homework assignments. I may have even used them when talking to friends on AIM (remember AIM). If I used a larger number of contractions in my informal writings, the question becomes when did my repertoire of contractions shrink? When did I forgot what can be contracted?

I could hypothesize that I stopped when I started doing larger quantities of formal writing. Formal writing dislikes contractions and maybe that carried over into my informal writing. I think I then developed a preference for formal writing. One exception is when I write its for it’s in texts and emails. I usually realize it after I have done it, but sometimes I do not realize the error. Maybe this further supports my theory that I have issues with creating contractions.

If I truly did not know better, I needed to be caught. Why was I not caught sooner? The answer is one of several possibilities. The first is that I am far from alone in writing “your welcome.” The other options is I am alone and no one wanted to correct me. There is also the possibility that there are less “you’re welcomes” circulating in emails, texts, and on Facebook. I think people sometimes just use welcome, or they instead will use no problem, which can then be abbreviated to np. Another factor is that when we thank people via email, a “you’re welcome” email back is not always necessary. If the “you’re welcome” email was necessary, I would have been caught during my time at the law firm. Clearly I was not caught at the law firm, but I have been caught now. I am grateful for the correction.

Although this grammatical error and my issues with contractions in general may have led you to question my Barnard degree, I think I have reclaimed it. I essentially just wrote a personal thesis on why I was making a grammar mistake. If that is not Barnard, I am not sure what is. Yes, I just ended a sentence with is.

If you happened to have learned from this personal thesis and want to thank me, you’re welcome.