mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)
mabfan

Semicolons and Parentheses: Not a Good Combination

As usual, I read the New York Times on my morning commute to work. I was reading the article "House Bans Smoking, and Few Complain" by Anne E. Kornblut when I came across the following sentence:


Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who often puffed on a cigar in the lounge, refused to comment on it; (his aides recommended calling back with a more serious question).


Now, I suppose I could have been surprised to learn that my representative smokes, or used to smoke, cigars; but frankly, as long as he's not smoking them in my face I really don't care. What startled me, however, was the placement of the semicolon followed immediately by a parenthetical clause.

As far as I understood, this was a grammatical no-no. If the second clause is to be considered not as important as the first clause, then it should simply be placed in parentheses. On the other hand, if it is considered as important as the first clause, the semicolon is the way to go.

But then I started to wonder. Had I missed out on a brand new grammatical fad, semicolons and parentheses? Was this sentence trying to tell me something, other than the obvious? I thought I would throw that question out into the blogosphere and see if other people had run into the semicolon-parentheses combination.

Until I went to the Times website to link to this article, and found a slightly altered version of the sentence:


Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who often puffed on a cigar in the lounge, refused to comment on it (his aides recommended calling back with a more serious question).


As you can see, the website version of the article omits the semicolon. At this point, I'm assuming that Kornblut felt that the recommendation of Frank's aides was important enough to warrant the semicolon, but that her editor disagreed. So what we got in the printed version of the paper this morning was a transitional evolutionary stage of that sentence, with the parentheses added but the semicolon not yet removed.

The moral of the story is to remove your semicolon before adding your parentheses.

Why am I obsessing over this? I have no idea.
Tags: boston, brookline, politics, writing, writing-advice
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