Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, December 21, 2020

On Semicolons and Interrobangs

I am spending the final days before the holidays reviewing and editing two major projects. One is a book on online law teaching that I am co-editing with Prof. Tracy Norton at Touro Law.  The other is the first issue of The Journal of Appellate Practice and Process that will be published by the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.  For this second project, I am looking at the final proofs of the articles for exciting things like missing commas, incorrect supra references, and missing en-dashes.  For a legal writing nerd like me, it is pretty fun, albeit exhausting.  What makes it even more fun is that I am collaborating with my friend and colleague Prof. Diana Simon.  

In the spirit of editing, proofing, and a love for punctuation, I wanted to share Diana's forthcoming (short)article in The Arizona Attorney on semicolons.  The article will appear in the February 2021 magazine, or you can read it here. In the article, Diana argues for the elimination of the semicolon. Calling them "snobs and elitists," Diana gives a brief history of the semicolon--including the mark's connection to the Son of Sam killer.  She then shares why it is time for the semicolon to go. Among other reasons, many law students today are not well-versed in punctuation and grammar in general, much less the “complex labyrinth of the semicolon.” Further, there are alternatives to the semicolon, and, she suggests, if we can eliminate the semicolon, the “snobbish semicolon worshippers can satisfy themselves knowing that the comma . . . should be a semicolon and pause the extra second, while the anti-semicolon populists . . . can silently cheer that the semicolon is gone for good.” In short, everyone wins. She makes a convincing case!

In editing book chapters and articles for The Journal, I have been struck several times by how authors develop a "pet" punctuation mark or word. From colons to em-dashes to filler words, I have seen it all.  I am sympathetic.  I know that I have my favorite words and punctuation styles.  It has been even more apparent now that my 2 year old is talking.  Do I really say "ok" that often?  Ok, yes I do.  

In addition to her discussion of the semicolon, Diana's article taught me that there is a punctuation mark that is definitely missing from my life, the interrobang.  As she explains, "the interrobang, was created to combine a question mark and an exclamation point. It looks like this: ‽ While this might seem like a good invention, it never quite caught on . . . ."  Why on earth did it not catch on‽ It seems to fill a real void in my punctuation life.  So, perhaps I will exchange my use of the semicolon with commas and start working on revitalizing the interrobang.

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