Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More on semicolons

Mark Davies has fixed the COCA and COHA, so I can now look more closely at historical uses of semicolons. Click here for a chart. It tells pretty much the same story as yesterday's post, but you can click it and find the actual usages from each decade (or even year if you care to drill down that far).

My hunch that listing items along the lines of Moon, 2009; Yazdi, 1992 has become a more common feature over time seems correct, though I didn't do any actual counts to confirm it. On the other hand, if you look at the early 1800s, semicolons seem to have been used much more commonly before coordinators than they are now. In fact, three of the first four randomly chosen examples include a coordinator.
  1. 1827 MAG NorthAmRev: momentous questions that could have occupied the deliberations of the assembly which framed the constitution; and if ever the tranquillity of this nation is to be disturbed, and its
  2. 1823 FIC ErrataTheWorks: should have snatched her away; but; on this, I forgot all humanity; or, rather, all the little that I had -- in my eagerness to
  3. 1823 FIC ErrataTheWorks: He might have shamed me, till the tears dropped hot from my eye lids; -- till he might have filled my bed with untold money, and, I
  4. 1821 NF SketchLifeBrig: he says, contemptuously, the guard was taken by " a Mr. Horry "; but Gen. Marion, as commanding officer, is entitled to the credit of it

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