For October’s meeting, we’re reading a short excerpt from Cecelia Watson’s Semicolon. These few pages take us on the journey of the birth of the semicolon in 15th century Venice. We gain insight into who made this specific punctuation mark, but also learn about the proliferation of grammar rules–many of which we use today–in this time period. The pages welcome us to question the roots of these punctuation marks and to question what makes great writing great.

Similarly, in the above video, Watson explains how dismantling the notion of intrinsic grammar rules “gives us incredible creative freedom, not just in terms of how we write, but in how we make a more just and open world.” Returning to the reading, it’s about recognizing that certain conventions reflect specific dialects/settings rather than universal truths about language and language use. Once this recognition occurs, we have the power to challenge discriminatory practices (think of what our discussions on stop telling us what to sound like and Borderlands taught us about diversity).

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever thought about the history of grammar rules and punctuation? Do you think it’s important to? Why or why not?
  • Do you approach punctuation more as a set of rules or as the music of your writing?
  • What do you think is more important: what people say in writing (e.g. the content) or how they say it (e.g. grammar and punctuation)? Why?