Picky point on semicolons

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 13 20:18:23 UTC 2009

At 11:35 AM -0500 1/13/09, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>On Mon, Dec 29, 2008 at 5:59 PM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at stanford.edu> wrote:
>>  On Dec 29, 2008, at 12:54 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>  >
>>  > from the paper of record (NYT today, C11)
>>  >
>>  > Book review by Janet Maslin of Carol O'Connell's _Bone by Bone_:
>>  >
>>  > Dramatically "Bone by Bone" is defuse...It has no real central
>>  > character.
>>  >
>>  > [Since I assume both words are in the relevant dictionary, there's no
>>  > Cupertino effect to blame]
>>  hmm.  the opposite substitution is already in the ecdb:
>>    http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/english/33/diffuse/
>>  the Maslin example looks like an ordinary mis-spelling to me, but i
>>  could be wrong.
>This was mentioned by NYT style guru Phil Corbett in his "After
>Deadline" column today, along with other spellchecker-proof typos:
Interesting.  I also notice this particular item in Guru Corbett's
blog entry, just under the ones on the "defuse" novel and tbe "color
Helium not only warps vocal chords, it also deadens taste buds.

--Make it "vocal cords." (Also, we probably needed a semicolon or
dash instead of a comma. Or use "but" in place of "it.")
No problem with Corbett's chords-->cords correction, but I'm a bit
surprised at his other complaint.  Is there really a rule in style
manuals against

A not only B's, it C's.

(as in
She not only liked it, she loved it.
I not only saw the movie, I also read the book.
Not only did I see the movie, I (also) read the book.

Granted, a "but"--where possible (as in the movie/book
examples)--would obviate the question, but it also elevates the
register a bit.  In any case, I can't imagine (well, I can, but...)
the argument for preferring (a) to (b) below:

(a) Helium not only warps vocal cords; it also deadens taste buds.
(b) Helium not only warps vocal cords, it also deadens taste buds.

In (a), that would make "Helium not only warps vocal cords" a
complete sentence/thought, according to what I thought the standard
rules were for semicolon use.  But it really isn't; the continuation
is (virtually) necessary (even more so when the first clause is
inverted) and there are no run-on sentences involved here.  That
would seem to argue for a comma, which is in any case far more
frequent than a semicolon in this context.  (I've looked at more "not
only/(but) also/even" type constructions than I'd care to shake a
stick at.)  Where the semicolon is warranted is in e.g. (c) or (d)

(c) Helium warps vocal cords; it also affects your fundamental frequency.
(d) Helium only warps vocal cords; it doesn't make you sterile.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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