Neil Neches has the rather unique yet proud distinction as being the only person since David Berkowitz (“The Son of Sam”) publicly recognized for his correct use of the semicolon. An employee in the New York City transit authority‘s marketing/service department, Neches made a little-noticed literary embellishment to a much-noticed placard hanging in the city’s subways.
The sign which read “Please put it in a trash can,” appeared incomplete and inadequate to Neches; he wanted to add a bit more to that line. In a bold and invigorating outpouring of creativity, he added “that’s good news for everyone” and preceded it with a semicolon. The new placard, now hanging in the lower depths of urban travel, reads “Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”
Naturally, this wasn’t an earth-shattering event…not even FOX featured it as “Breaking News.” However, it’s nice to know that some people still care about grammatical and literary excellence (wherever it may be) in a society that ignores even a proper attempt at correct spelling. Personally, I’m constantly mystified by the semicolon and what its purpose in the universe is all about. This half-assed, strange-looking symbol being the cause of many half-assed errors in my student days when proper grammar used to be important.
I should have suspected something when, over thirty years ago, columnist Jimmy Breslin received a series of rambling handwritten notes from a maniac and was very impressed. He wasn’t so much impressed by the ravings but by the correct usage of the semicolon to express these ravings. Of course, this was the aforementioned David Berkowitz, of whom Breslin said was the “only murderer he ever encountered who could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver.” To which, Sam Richards of the NY Times adds, “he’s now serving an even longer sentence.”
(originally posted: 05/09/08)
Source: NY Times
- Semicolons (fycomposition.com)
- Writing Tip #70 (makingbabygrand.com)
- I Hate Commas (cathysvoicenow.wordpress.com)