The chapter on semicolons has a very good example of how the choice of punctuation affects the reader’s experience. Referring to President Kennedy’s famous “Ask not” line, Plotnik discusses how the pause between “Ask not what your country can do for you” and “Ask what you can do for your country” can be punctuated: comma, dash, period, colon, or semicolon? He says:
- The comma seems too hurried, too trivializing, as if one were saying: “Ask not for the large pizza, ask for the small one.”
- The dash is too abrupt. With a dash, one expects an indirection, like, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask how you can get heartburn relief.”
- A period (full stop) allows time to anticipate the locution and to think, “Yeah, yeah, I get it.”
- And a colon warns of some tedious enumeration: “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do about poverty; ask what you can do about the environment; ask what you can . . .”
Reviewed from a copy borrowed from the library.