One to two times a week, I get an email from a concerned reader about my refusal to use apostrophes.


So it pleases me greatly to see the death of another form of punctuation documented so thoroughly:

By 1865, grammarian Justin Brenan could boast of “The rejection of the eternal semicolons of our ancestors. … The semicolon has been gradually disappearing, not only from newspapers, but from books–insomuch that I believe instances could now be produced, of entire pages without a single semicolon.”

WHOOO!! If you can dream it, you can do it! Death to apostrophes!

This article has also confirmed my deepest, darkest fears about those who use proper punctuation:

…the last writers to receive much notice for semicolon use have been a New York City Transit employee and the Son of Sam. In 1977 the NYPD speculated that “the killer could be a freelance journalist” because of his “use of a semicolon” in his taunting letters.

Forget what the world would be like if Dominionsts win… What would our lives be like if GRAMMAR NAZIS were in charge? *shudders*



  1. #1 William Cowan
    June 21, 2008

    Hey! Quit picking on the semi-colon! It saves my papers from run-on sentences like the Secret Service saves the president from bullets!

  2. #2 afarensis
    June 21, 2008

    Erv – Grammer nazis r tool ov teh basement kitteh, sent 2 plague innosent bloggers. Besidez, they r jealous cuz they haz no cheezburgers.

  3. #3 PhysioProf
    June 21, 2008

    If the semicolon has been dying since 1865, it is quite a slow death; many writers still find them extremely useful.


  4. #4 Cory Albrecht
    June 21, 2008

    There will always be grammar Nazis because there will always be grammar. You can’t communicate properly without some form of grammar, whether that’s through word order like English or case endings like Latin. Imagine if your idea of grammar was “Cory gives ERV the dog” by mine was “The dog gives Cory ERV” but we both meant the same thing? Communication breakdown, and I don’t mean the Chilliwack song.

    And if there was no standardized spelling can you imagine how hard it would be for children to learn how to read? Teh resaon yuo nad I cna rade a snetecen lkie tihs is becuaes we leanred to raed propre splelde stuff ni teh frist plcae adn teh huamn brian is an ecxlelnet fzuzy pattren mtahcer.

    While I agree that spelling/grammar flames are petty, I would have thought that a scientist like yourself would have agreed with the necessity for precision in communication.

  5. #5 Mike O'Risal
    June 21, 2008

    What would our lives be like if GRAMMAR NAZIS were in charge?

    Ummmm… legible, perhaps?

  6. #6 Yoo
    June 21, 2008

    The next things to go are either upper case letters or lower case letters: there ain’t enough room in this world for both.

  7. #7 Sili
    June 21, 2008

    What would our lives be like if GRAMMAR NAZIS were in charge? *shudders*

    Like this. Be glad you’re not a Queenslander. That dr Ferguson seems to have picked up quite a few tricks from the creos.

  8. #8 Optimus Primate
    June 21, 2008

    This article has also confirmed my deepest, darkest fears about those who use proper punctuation:

    *Sniff* I’m wounded. 🙁

  9. #9 The Ridger
    June 21, 2008

    Grammar Nazis:Grammar :: …

    I can’t finish it. I can’t think of another discipline so overrun with people who know very little, act as if they have the WORD, and have others falling over themselves to accept their pronouncements. As Mark Liberman once remarked:

    Also, I have to say that I hate this role of correcting elementary errors of linguistic analysis, or questioning unthinking prescriptions that are logically incoherent, factually wrong and promptly disobeyed by the prescriber. Historians aren’t constantly confronted with people who carry on self-confidently about the rule against adultery in the sixth amendment to the Declamation of Independence, as written by Benjamin Hamilton. Computer scientists aren’t always having to correct people who make bold assertions about the value of Objectivist Programming, as examplified in the HCNL entities stored in Relaxational Databases. The trouble is, most people are much more ignorant about language than they are about history or computer science, but they reckon that because they can talk and read and write, their opinions about talking and reading and writing are as well informed as anybody’s. And since I have DNA, I’m entitled to carry on at length about genetics without bothering to learn anything about it. Not.

  10. #10 Paul Lundgren
    June 21, 2008

    Or the letter C; for that matter. If you think about it; the letter C sometimes sounds like a K; and sometimes sounds like an S; so what good does it do? Oh; and yes; I;m using the semikolon throughout this post; bekause I;m getting it in until the lolspeakers take over and remove it from my keyboard.

  11. #11 Bee
    June 21, 2008

    Grammar Nazis are my heros! They brave being Godwinned by name, the jeers of their peers, the self-righteous tongue-lashings of the dyslexic, the minefield of typos tripping them up as they pursue their task, and now the blog-postings of anti-punctuationists.

    Their courageous efforts may be all that shields us from a world in which u r BFF… in ur bkx… lulz r no moar lowd…

    O GOD! it r too lat!!1!!11!


  12. #12 Joshua Zelinsky
    June 21, 2008

    The semi-colon is not dead; it shall live as long as a few brave souls remember it and use it. Long live the semi-colon! Long live pretentious punctuation!

  13. #13 Barn Owl
    June 21, 2008

    Communication breakdown, and I don’t mean the Chilliwack song.

    For shame!!! A thousand lashes with a wet Fender Telecaster!

    Communication Breakdown is a Led Zeppelin song, written by Page, Jones, and Bonham. Early Zep’, too. Did Chilliwack even cover the song? No, wait; I don’t care.

    Chilliwack vinyl is fit only for modified Frisbee golf, and even in that function, lasts only about three holes. Then it’s time to switch to the Ted Nugent vinyl.

  14. #14 Brian X
    June 21, 2008

    I have no particular problems with semicolons; I’m not exactly sure how to put it into words, but I never had any particular problem distinguishing between a semicolon and a comma. But then I’ve never been mugged and left for dead by a gang of rouge apostrophes.

    Be ebthr barf rvgure. (Un un. Lbh gubhtug V zvfcryyrq fbzrguvat.)

  15. #15 Brian X
    June 21, 2008

    Barn owl:

    Hands off the Ted Nugent vinyl! I need that for skeet shooting!

  16. #16 The Christian Cynic
    June 21, 2008

    Semicolons aren’t always pretentious; they can actually serve a significant rhetorical purpose when used intentionally. Certainly (and this might depend somewhat on one’s audience), I don’t think that every sentence which contains a semicolon could be written just as effectively with a comma (or perhaps similar punctuation), this makes for sloppy sentences which run together without any clear break or transition between ideas, and a semicolon makes the combination of separate thoughts work without having to cut the sentence off prematurely and segregate the ideas. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that semicolons should be used to make sentences go on for pages [this means you, Victor Hugo], but I digress.)

    I hope my grammatical usage was somewhat instructive at least.

  17. #17 Loki
    June 21, 2008

    How else would you tie two ideas together, without using more connective tissue that just increases verbiage?; are we not all too busy to read more?
    How else would you tie two ideas together? You would need to explain the relationship of one idea to another. You would need to state that one is causal, or just establish the second idea as an outgrowth of the first, and make footnotes. Or you would need to use some artificial device to keep the ideas from mingling with each other.

  18. #18 sudo stfu
    June 21, 2008

    The proper use of the semicolon is as a separator on the command line.

  19. #19 themadlolscientist
    June 21, 2008

    The next things to go are either upper case letters or lower case letters: there ain’t enough room in this world for both.

    cappitl lettrz. kittehs iz alredy mosly got rid ov dem. jus pr00vz we iz teh moar advansd speshes den hy00mins lololol!

    cockroaches are even more advanced they never use any punctuation at all they have to dive headfirst onto the typewriter keys to make them work it already gives them a massive headache it doesnt make any sense to waste a dive on punctuation

    I don’t know why people have a thing against semicolons; I use them fairly often in my formal writing. Somehow they seem to make things less choppy. I don’t use them in my informal writing – most of the time I use dashes instead – and I hardly ever use commas in their place.

  20. #20 wk
    June 21, 2008

    I have to do a fair bit of revising others’ writing in my work. A link and a “:-)” before beginning a ritual shredding can help defuse things.

  21. #21 Steven N. Severinghaus
    June 21, 2008

    This might be a good time to mention my ERV for Grammarians pipe. It’s far from perfect, but it felt (sadly) good to do. Suggestions are welcome.

  22. #22 minusRusty
    June 21, 2008

    Do NOT get me started on serial commas vs. the AP Style Guide (damned newspapermen!), nor on our American tradition of putting the period inside a quote when it’s not part of the quote itself. I definitely prefer Douglas Hofstadter’s (and British) logic: If it’s part of the quote, it goes inside, if it’s not, it goes outside.

    But I’d like to see broader usage of Guillemets (e.g., �what this sentence is immediately surrounded by�) as an alternate to quote marks (“”), to help distinguish between straight quotation ans sneer quotation. (Quote marks being used for sneer quotation.)

    But that’s my own personal peev. (!) *growlz*


  23. #23 lylebot
    June 21, 2008

    The semicolon is the single greatest punctuation mark in the history of the English language. I’m no grammar nazi; I won’t insist that others use it. But it won’t be completely dead until you’ve pried it from my cold, stiff fingers.

  24. #24 steveh
    June 21, 2008

    I’m something of a grammar Nazi. If you don’t use apostrophes and semicolons correctly, it jars against my delicate sensibilities and hinders communication. If you write “Abbies dog, Arnie”, I honestly can’t tell if you mean “Abbie has a dog called Arnie” or “Hey Arnie, Abbie is dog”. When speaking, you should say “Abbie has a dog called Arnie” because otherwise one can’t hear the difference between “Abbies dog” and “Abbie’s dog” which hurts and leads to patronizing letters. Alternatively, you could say “Abbie apostrophes dog” or waggle an apostrophising finger at the appropriate moment to make your meaning clear. The timing can get a bit difficult with possesives associated with plurals or names ending in ‘s’, so it is better to say “apostrophe” loadly and clearly in those cases.

  25. #25 Samantha Vimes
    June 21, 2008

    I think I love the responses here; so many have managed to use both the semicolon and LOL!speak.

    Can we not see formal grammar and LOL!speak as example of English evolving to fit two different niches? Like txt msg or telegraph grammar comma they hav uses stop

    The important thing is clear communication, in whatever style.

  26. #26 The Ridger
    June 21, 2008

    Oh, one more thing: IT’S NOT GRAMMAR.

    Punctuation is not grammar. It’s spelling or it’s syntax.

  27. #27 BaldApe
    June 21, 2008

    John while James had had had had had had had Had had had had a better effect on the teacher

    That that is is that that is not is not is that it it is

    I suspect that part of the “demise” of the semicolon is due to the irrational fear of relatively complex sentences.

    OTOH, some email programs separate multiple addresses with commas, some with semicolons. I wish they could at least make up their minds.

  28. #28 karl
    June 21, 2008

    Never did much trust that Y. Such a fence sitter. Sometimes a vowel. Sometimes a consonant.

  29. #29 Feyn
    June 21, 2008


    Be ebthr barf rvgure. (Un un. Lbh gubhtug V zvfcryyrq fbzrguvat.)

    Lrf, lrf, lrf! Zber EBG13 naq yrff YBY! Gung ubeevoyr qnl jura crbcyr fgnegrq hfvat EBG26 nf n ‘orggre’ zrgubq bs pbzzhavpngvat jnf gur ortvaavat bs gur raq. Orfvqrf, vg tvirf zr fhpu jnez zrzbevrf bs Hfrarg jura vg jnf tbbq. BX, vs abg tbbq, nqrdhngr.

  30. #30 Brian
    June 21, 2008

    Don’t be picking on us grammar nazis all the time. We grammar nazis need love, too, you know.

  31. #31 Elf Eye
    June 21, 2008

    With apologies to Mark Twain:

    The reports of the death of the semicolon have been greatly exaggerated.

  32. #32 efrique
    June 21, 2008

    Don’t knock the semicolon. Without misplaced semicolons, William Shatner would just be a run-of-the-mill bad actor.

  33. #33 Interrobang
    June 21, 2008

    I’m also going to defend the grammar nazis in the crowd. (*waves*) Some of us actually like that sort of thing. I’m quite crazy about semi-colons. Does this mean I have a trait in common with Son of Sam? Wow.

    Efrique, that’s a damnable slander on the old Shakespearian. Too bad what works well at Stratford doesn’t work so well on television; Christopher Plummer does about the same things and nobody gets up his nose.

  34. #34 John S. Wilkins
    June 21, 2008

    So that explains Shatner’s style. It was typographical errors…

  35. #35 felizkrilll
    June 22, 2008

    TAM 6 Call for papers: James Randi – little blaspheming atheist fraud and his army of robot zombie followers:


    to see how we stopped Randi’s MD paranormal challenge….

    and FINALLY:

    guess what is inside angel’s ENVELOPE:


  36. #36 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 22, 2008

    I say it is high time that all good grammarians stepped forward to condemn the blatant antapostrophism advocated on this blog. We must defend English against this insidious attempt to strip the language of its most beloved punctuation by one who plainly never learnt proper usage in the first place. Abandoning the apostrophe is but the thin end of a wedge designed to reduce written English to the near-gibberish standard of the average university freshman.

    As an antantapostrophist I call on all true English speakers to arouse themselves from their traditional state of comma-tose indifference and put a full stop to this colon-ial campaign to reduce us to the monotonous monosyllabilism of the MTV generation.

  37. #37 Witch Tyler, madlolscientist and leader of the Pedants' Revolt
    June 22, 2008

    To the Worthy and Esteemed Professor Spedding:

    My hat is off to you, Sir.

    Ever your humble servant,
    Witch Tyler, madlolscientist and leader of the Pedants’ Revolt

  38. #38 Dustin
    June 22, 2008

    to see how we stopped Randi’s MD paranormal challenge

    Oooh! Oooh! I know how!

    …you did it by sitting on your ass and waiting for JREF to stop the challenge on their own. Now go put your gonads in a wall socket, you boring copy-paste troll.

  39. #39 Dustin
    June 22, 2008

    ..full stop to this colon-ial campaign to reduce us…

    You got that joke down at the quilting fair, didn’t you?

  40. #40 Reynold Hall
    June 22, 2008

    WHOOO!! If you can dream it, you can do it! Death to apostrophes!

    We’re way ahead of you, Abbie.

  41. #41 Crudely Wrott
    June 22, 2008

    When you think about punctuation symbols and the rules (read, “guidelines”) concerning their usage you might come to a conclusion that I came to a long time ago. That is, that the symbols and the rules are a matter of convenience, mostly.

    Convenience for the writer in that certain thoughts are delineated for possible editing, of course. Even more convenience for the reader who, possibly a step behind the writer, will often find thoughtful markers placed so as to make the written word read like speech.

    When we listen to someone speak we are constantly informed by information that is not speech; body language, tempo and pitch, facial expression and et cetera. This extra-vocal information is functionally punctuation. We blend the words and the extra-vocal stuff and are well informed of the speakers intent.

    The extra-vocal is mostly lost in written communication. Punctuation symbols take the place of variations in speech. As such, they all have value in terms of discerning not only the content of the written word but its intent as well. I am assuming that these two variables, content and intent, are of significant importance in communications both verbal and written.

    Only one apostrophe was enslaved in this comment and that was because I found it both convenient and useful. YMMV.

  42. #42 Crudely Wrott
    June 22, 2008

    That should read “Only one semicolon was enslaved . . .” This mistake took place due to a previous mistake relating to the assigning of names to various things due to an exotic affliction. Not to worry, though; I got the ellipsis right.

  43. #43 Doctor Spurt
    June 22, 2008

    You’re in decent company cutting the apostrophes – I’ve noticed Cormac McCarthy does without them a lot of the time. What markers besides the letters themselves (the space between words had to be ‘invented’ too) help legibility and clarity depends partly on what readers are used to, and how they’re wired up. Punctuation that really adds no precision (who, really, is going to confuse ‘dont’ with anything else) might just as well drop into disuse, but I reckon much of it does legitimate work. Doubtful – edit the html of the page and shuffle some of the pointy brackets and slashes around and see for yourself…

  44. #44 Dawn
    June 23, 2008

    sudo stfu: I agree about the proper use of semi-colons. And the little buggers run and hide sometimes, giving me all kinds of colorful notes that I don’t like seeing.

    SAS rules….

  45. #45 Blaidd Drwg
    June 23, 2008

    @ BaldApe: The correct punctuation for your sample sentence is:

    John, while James had had “had” had had “had had”. “Had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.

    My father is a retired editor for the USGS; he wrote Environmental Impact Statements for 20 years until he retired. He taught me to write a (fairly) coherent sentence.

  46. #46 minusRusty
    June 23, 2008


  47. #47 Brian
    June 24, 2008

    Some grammar nazis are pretty funny, though. Like this one: But I’ll bet you agree with this one more:

  48. #48 steve s
    June 29, 2008

    Not using apostrophes just makes you look educationally deficient.

  49. #49 Pocket Nerd
    June 30, 2008

    I like semicolons; they’re a useful way to join together related sentences.

    That said, I’m baffled by people who seem to think English is slowly degenerating from some primordial Golden Tongue, passed down to Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare from YHVH. Linguistic evolution, like the biological kind, happens whether you believe in it or not.

  50. #50 Deke
    July 1, 2008

    Perl will save the semi-colon!

  51. #51 Paper Hand
    July 12, 2008

    Well … the apostrophe is useful for distinguishing between the singular possessive and plural possessive of regular nouns, e.g., “the cat’s food” vs “the cats’ food”

    It’s also disconcerting to see homophones such as your/you’re confused. It impedes reading.

  52. #52 Patrick
    July 13, 2011

    Having stumbled upon this blog due to the recent events involving Rebecca Watson et al., I tend to agree with comment #48. However, I assume that you are in fact intelligent and well-educated. Why deliberately present yourself as a moron?

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