Punctuation

So earlier today I took a break from catching up on my e-mail. There were sounds of intense tickling happening in Sarah’s bedroom, and Oot was doing one of his best laughs: sort of this helpless throaty chortle that means you’ve *really* got him going.

I don’t know if Sarah realizes, but he gets that laugh from her. When something happens that strikes Sarah as really funny, she does this deep, throaty laugh. It’s like the sound a donkey would make if it was suddenly turned into an cartoon stereotype of an overweight geek. It goes heah heah heah.

It is in no way a dignified sound. But it is my favorite laugh ever. It’s full of genuine amusement. And whatever it lacks in dignity it makes up in honesty. True laughter is rarely dignified.

Anyway, Oot is doing his version of this laugh, which means she’s probably managed to get his ribs. She’s good at the ribs, I’m a leg man myself.

Best tickle

(Dramatic Recreation)

I would like to digress slightly to say that I’m a master-class fucking tickler. Seriously. I’m amazing. I could teach a class on tickling. I could do a TED talk.

Anyway, I come in to Sarah’s bedroom and lay down on the bed all casual-like, ready to produce some bespoke tickling.

Then Sarah looks at me with lust in her eyes and says, “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid.

To understand her statement, you have to realize that I am the next stage in human evolution. My pheromonic musk is developed to the point where it’s practically a weapon. In the best of circumstances, I smell masculine. And on a day when I’m staying home and have skipped my morning shower…

Well…. suffice to say that you know there’s a man in the house, even if you can’t see me.

On top of that, I’d been writing. I don’t know why, but when I’m writing, my man-smell gets particularly strong. It’s like my body is trying to establish its dominance over reality itself.

The effects of this pheromonal cocktail vary, but with a select section of the female populous it has two profound, complimentary effects.

1. It delivers a message directly to the woman’s hindbrain, saying: THERE IS A MAN NEARBY, AND YOU MUST MATE WITH HIM.

2. It immediately drops the woman’s intelligence anywhere from 10-50 IQ points, which makes it hard for them to realize that mating with me is *obviously* a bad idea, while at the same time rendering them more vulnerable to my not inconsiderable charm.

You have to admit that evolutionarily speaking, this is a winning combo.

Anyway, Sarah says that, and we laugh. Then, after giving Oot a good tickling, I ask her if I can post her comment up on facebook.

She agrees, and I go to amuse the internets.

But here’s the problem. I can’t find a way to accurately portray what she said.

It should be easy. I know exactly *what* she said. Eight words. Two independent clauses.

But it’s not easy. The trouble lies in the punctuation.

Let’s start with the most generic way of doing this.

  • “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid.”

Punctuated like this, her statement feels choppy and wooden. More importantly, the statement feels matter-of-fact and emotionless.

But if you try to spice it up with an exclamation mark….

  • “You smell so good! It’s making me stupid.”

There’s a reason exclamation abuse is a crime. Punctuated this way, Sarah seems hopelessly manic. Like she was hopping up and down, excited. That’s not right at all.

You can’t do it the other way, either….

  • “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid!”

Then it seems like she’s excited that she’s stupid, which gives the wrong impression on every conceivable level.

And neither of those options address the other problem, that having a full stop in the middle makes it feel like she’s making two separate, unconnected statements. That’s simply not the case, she’s making one complex statement.

Here’s how I’d like to punctuate it…

  • “You smell so good, it’s making me stupid.”

But that’s a comma splice. I’m not opposed to them entirely, I’m no slave to grammar. But when you’re relaying one line of dialogue and it’s grammatically incorrect…. That’s just not classy. It’s sloppy writing.

Technically, you could fix this with a semicolon….

  • “You smell so good; it’s making me stupid.”

In some ways this is the right thing to do. A semicolon is the official way to show two independent clauses have a close relationship to each other.

Here’s the problem: Semicolons are for wankers. Seriously. You can go your whole life without ever needing to really use a semicolon.

Unless you’re an academic, of course. If you’re an academic, you’ve got to use semicolon to impress other wankers with how much of a wanker you are so you can get your paper published. You know, that paper you wrote detailing your in-depth Marxist interpretation of the last eight lines of John Donne’s “The Flea?” The paper where you used the word “moreover” twenty-seven times in eleven pages?

Most importantly, a semicolon looks really strange in a piece of casual dialogue. People don’t speak using semicolons. Unless they’re wankers.

A lot of time, I’ll default to an ellipsis. Because I love ellipses.

  • “You smell so good… it’s making me stupid.”

But it implies too much of a pause in the middle of the statement.

What about an em dash?

  • “You smell so good— it’s making me stupid.”

Nope. Just looks weird.

And don’t even think about using an en dash, you little fuckers. That’s *not* what an en dash is for….

In the end, the only way to make this piece of dialogue “sound” right to the reader is through use of interstitials.

  • “You smell so good,” she said, looking at me with half-lidded eyes. “It’s making me stupid.”

That’s not quite right either. We need some foregrounding *and* an interstitial….

  • Sarah looked at me lustily. “You smell so good,” she said, her eyes half-closed. “It’s making me stupid.”

There. That’s just about right. That conveys her tone and mood in the appropriate way.

What’s my point?

Well, first off, let me say that I never promised there would be a point here. Sometimes I just idly muse about shit. Sometimes I just tell stories. Sometimes there’s no point.

But if there *is* a point it’s probably this: When you’re writing, there are no small choices. Or perhaps it would be better to say that writing is nothing *but* small choices. And all of them have the opportunity to effect your story in a disproportionately large way. Punctuation can change the tone of a sentence. The tone of a sentence can change the feel of a scene. And the feel of a scene can change your impression of a character’s personality.

A secondary point is that this is why my revision takes so long. When you think all these little things to death, you tend to fidget with a text a *lot.*

More cool stuff this week. Stay tuned.

pat

This entry was posted in Oot, the craft of writing, things I shouldn't talk about. By Pat151 Responses

151 Comments

  1. noregsson
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 3:06 AM | Permalink

    Wohoo! Pat called me a wanker!

    • Posted April 7, 2013 at 3:18 AM | Permalink

      Heh. I think I’m going to get a lot of people defending the semi-colon here in the comments.

      I try to keep my irrational prejudices to a minimum, but I allow myself distaste for the semicolon, as it’s relatively harmless.

      • Joe M.
        Posted April 7, 2013 at 8:42 AM | Permalink

        Some recent auditions for wanker-dom?

        “Socrates does defer an inspection of Charmides’ beauty until after they have examined his soul; this treats the state of Charmides’ body as secondary and perhaps subordinate.”

        “In this speech, Socrates claims to have an herb for Charmides’ head and a charm for Charmides’ soul; the first ensures the good condition of the body (it will cure his headache), the second the good condition of the soul (it will produce σωφροσύνη).”

        There were some worse ones, by far, of course. But I don’t want to get into whether or not semicolons have value; rather, I’d like to lodge a point that’s to the side. [<< Couldn't resist that one.]

        Whatever the value of semicolons, I do think part of their bad rap is that they're extra awful taken out of context. In the middle of a pretty convoluted (academic) passage, I often find them handy. Now that may well be because I'm an awkward writer, no master stylist here. And it may be that the academic game relies on quantity, not polished quality. But if semicolons do have a non-wankerish value (however minor), then it can’t help their cause that they look so silly pulled out as a one-liner.

      • Amanda
        Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:50 AM | Permalink

        And your assistant is one of them!

        • Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:45 PM | Permalink

          You’re fired.

          • Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:46 PM | Permalink

            Sorry. That should be:

            You’re; fired.

          • Amanda
            Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:24 PM | Permalink

            I’ll gleefully ignore that; see you tomorrow!

          • acognetta
            Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:34 PM | Permalink

            tl;dr Fired.

      • Posted April 7, 2013 at 1:22 PM | Permalink

        My father is a semicolon, you bastard.

      • Tristania
        Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:29 PM | Permalink

        I don’t get all this anti-semicolonic sentiment. The way I see it, the semicolon represents a shorter pause than the period; it connects thoughts as well as separating them. It is a useful tool in writing, allowing more control over the rhythm of your prose.

        Would you compose a symphony without quarter rests, on the principle that a full stop does the job just as well?

        • toadsqualor
          Posted April 12, 2013 at 9:45 AM | Permalink

          Besides, it provides sentence variety in what could otherwise be a boring paragraph. It may be a difficult bit of punctuation to master, but it’s totally useful; when one is painting a picture with words, it’s nice to have all the brushes to accurately paint the image.

      • treznick
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:49 AM | Permalink

        When I used to teach history to students of a notorious university that shall remain nameless, I would allow them only three semicolons and three em dashes for the entire semester. Suffice it to say that this was a surprisingly challenging limit to stay under for the average undergrad with presumptions of writing quality. That said, given that I am a graduate student with presumptions of writing quality (emphasis on the presumptions — they’re not validly held), I can definitely count myself amongst the repeat offender list.

      • Chandran
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 1:43 PM | Permalink

        cout<<"If you do any programming, you use semicolons at the end of just about every line…"<<endl;

      • Posted April 9, 2013 at 12:20 PM | Permalink

        In the words of Father Kurt:

        “Here is a lesson in creative writing.

        First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

        ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

    • Posted April 7, 2013 at 3:34 AM | Permalink

      Wohoo; Pat called me a wanker?

      • unsleepable
        Posted April 7, 2013 at 2:54 PM | Permalink

        Nice punctuation, there =D

        I love semicolons; I’ve used them frequently ever since I discovered that there was something that was actually correct to put in my writing wherever I wanted to do a comma splice. I’ve been marked down for comma splices a lot in my life, and it is extraordinarily irritating; it shames me to be seen as bad at anything grammar-related.

        MEANWHILE …

        I am okay with different people having different tastes. And different smells. It is indeed sexy.

  2. mauraplaid
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 3:11 AM | Permalink

    Pat,
    That was freaking awesome. From the picture of Oot to the subtle W;t reference, I’ve never read such a clear and entertaining explanation on the importance of punctuation. Just a couple of thoughts:
    It took me years to work up the courage to use a semi-colon. Seriously, it was like I had gone through some academic right of passage when I finally felt comfortable using one or two per paper. I totally use “moreover,” too, but only in moderation.
    I’m also reminded of another entertaining (yet brief) discussion of punctuation. An episode of MTV’s surprisingly excellent “Awkward.” once explained that “ellipses are the whores of punctuation” while discussing how punctuation affected the subject of a text message.

  3. Posted April 7, 2013 at 3:16 AM | Permalink

    The ellipsis… definitely the ellipsis.

    I love ellipses; I also love semicolons. Does that make me a semi-wanker? Can one be any sort of wanker if one is a female-type person? The internets entirely fail to address this important question. Why is there no masturbation-themed pejorative for women? Discuss.

    (psst… it’s “populace”)

    • B45op
      Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:00 AM | Permalink

      I like the word elipsis… sorry too much coffee. As for the word wank or wanker I believe it could be used to describe female masturbation, it is a vulgar term but it could suffice given the right context.

      • Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:48 PM | Permalink

        Yeah. I consider wanker sufficiently removed from the original meaning that it’s pretty gender neutral.

        Much in the same way that when I call someone a fucker, I’m not implying they are, literally, one who fucks.

        • Anonimous
          Posted February 10, 2016 at 2:48 PM | Permalink

          Well… Who know’s?

          • Anonimous
            Posted February 10, 2016 at 2:49 PM | Permalink

            *knows

            I have to say, that’s one embarrassing mistake over there

  4. jordan
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 4:43 AM | Permalink

    This is what you do. You make us feel like it was so obvious before. It HAD to be there in a very obvious way. I read this post. And I knew that you were describing the phrase’s evolution. When I got to the end, I would see the genius. I KNEW the feeling from the first sentence. But you had deconstructed it and were rebuilding it piece by piece for my entertainment. And I could see the growth of it all. But after all the examples…the end of the post came. And I compared it to the original. And there it was. Exactly the same. No evolution. I hate you.

    • oliphant
      Posted April 7, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Permalink

      I agree. This also explains why we have to wait so long for the next masterpiece. Wow.

  5. MidgetMe
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 4:47 AM | Permalink

    Derek Zoolander:
    A Model
    Idiot?

  6. maine character
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 6:10 AM | Permalink

    I’d go for the comma splice since the “Because you smell so good” is implied. And hey, it’s dialogue, spoken by an obviously pheromone-drugged woman. She doesn’t care about punctuation, just procreation.

    But yeah, I’ll resort to fudging things with an em dash long before I resort to a semi-colon.

    First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
    – Kurt Vonnegut

  7. aldel
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:27 AM | Permalink

    Finally, an answer to the question of how to punctuate “yo momma so fat” jokes.

    I thought the whole debate was going to be period vs. comma vs. nothing. All the other options are obviously wrong to me, except the interstitials (which didn’t occur to me).

    Of course, now that I wrote it out and looked at it, nothing (“You smell so good it’s making me stupid”) doesn’t look right either. I think the comma is closest to correct. The grammatically correct version would actually be “You smell so good that it’s making me stupid”. But that’s not what she said, and probably too formal for the context.

    Or actually, the period might be best, depending on the intent. If she first decided to say “You smell so good”, as a complete statement, and then (probably after a bit of a pause) decided to say what it was doing to her, then the period evokes that pretty well.

  8. Redwulf
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:54 AM | Permalink

    I’m in the middle of trying to write a short story for WotF, and due to how much time I’ve spent fiddling around with punctuation, this discussion has left me feeling like I’ve shown up to class without any pants on. :-)

    • Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:50 PM | Permalink

      This made me laugh.

      • Redwulf
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:52 AM | Permalink

        Ecstatic that I could return the favor of sharing a laugh. I am, however, still going to comb the ever-loving hell out of my story for subtle grammatical failures again (and again… and again… and again…).

      • Redwulf
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:24 PM | Permalink

        Just as an aside, I recently read through both NotW and WMF again, and as always, your sheer prowess at writing landed a solid punch to the gut of my self-confidence.

        So I decided I should go read The Road to Levenshir again (as your amazing success story is what prompted me to try my hand at WotF to begin with), and hope that the Great and Powerful Pat was once a mere mortal like I.

        The very first page, what stands out to me… “Men and women lounged about talking. One strummed a lute; another tapped a tabor idly against his leg.”

        Stunned, I rip out my copy of WMF and flip to the appropriate section… “One strummed a lute, while another tapped a small tabor idly against his leg.”

        I know you hate revising over and over again, but I can’t tell you how motivating (and… relieving) it is to see an example of how it evolved for you. Thanks. :-)

  9. HeroineOfCanton
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:59 AM | Permalink

    I have to say, I’m entirely indifferent to the semicolon, but I’m thrilled to see that I’m not the only person with an absolute horror of the word “moreover.”

    As to the ellipse, well…

    “I am a sick man…I am a wicked man.”

    Best. First. Sentence. Ever.

  10. evandy
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:44 AM | Permalink

    Pat,

    I think you may be missing something very critical here. I think what she actually said was:

    “You smell so good it’s making me stupid…”

    If she paused for a moment between the words “good” and “it’s” then it was obviously because, smelling you, she she momentarily forgot the second half of the sentence and had to stop to remember it.

    Personally, I think this solves all your punctuation problems.

    What to do when your wife says this and your toddler awake, however, is a different problem.

  11. Aragos
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:45 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for a great story, Patrick! Made me laugh as usual. :)

    But may I point out that you’re using “effect” as a verb in “opportunity to effect”? It feels like the sound of fingernails on slate, heard in the middle of a great cuddle.

    • JediJoe
      Posted April 7, 2013 at 1:43 PM | Permalink

      Yeah, it was a little ironic in the middle of a thought about how important the little things are!

      Wow, now who’s a wanker? Probably the guys calling out a bestselling author on a bit of blog grammar…

      • Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:52 PM | Permalink

        Meh. I could give a fuck about the Affect/effect thing. I always get it wrong. It won’t stay in my head, and the amount of time it takes for me to look it up and figure it out just isn’t worth it to me.

        Same with Lie/lay. I leave that for the copy editors.

        • Beolach
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 2:36 PM | Permalink
        • Hedgewriter
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:56 PM | Permalink

          I always use impact instead of effect, makes life easier and I never screw it up. Unless of course I use impact in place of affect. Wait…damn.

          • Oatmeal
            Posted April 9, 2013 at 11:04 AM | Permalink

            I do that too!!! I’m like “hmmm … effect, affect, effect, affect, … aww fuck it. Impact it is!”
            I also abuse the “…” to an absurd degree.

  12. ModreztheWeird
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:54 AM | Permalink

    Thanks Pat for completing my awesome week.
    I finished the tests for this semester, i got my worldbuilders package with some nice stuff, i spent time with my girlfriend… (or “;” or “-” or “.” ??? )
    and now you gave me a nice literature/writing lecture, while i enjoyed learning more about my favourite author.

    You’re the Best

  13. wseligman
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:01 AM | Permalink

    A bit off-topic, but I am forced to speak:

    Please tell me that Patrick Rothfuss, a writer whom I worship as a god, did not just use the word “lustily.”

    • Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:54 PM | Permalink

      It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

      • Jickson
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:36 PM | Permalink

        If only you could slightly embiggen the comma, in a less wankery fashion, then your quest for the perfect pause may come to an end?

  14. Yoni
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:23 AM | Permalink

    Courtesy of searchable ebooks, 3 examples of semicolon use in WMF:

    “I was about to respond when Tempi burst out laughing. And he kept laughing; great shaking laughs that left him breathless.”

    “Aturan was like a wide, shallow pool; it had many words, all very specific and precise. Ademic was like a deep well.”

    “Her sister’s sense does credit to her family; less so the actions of your lady wife.”

    I suppose that despite Pat’s distaste of semicolons, there are at least a few occasions in a 1000pg book which warrants its use.

    • Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:56 PM | Permalink

      Ah! Hoist on my own petard!

      I do admit. I occationally use one. And that second example is a great instance of how you sometimes have to go there.

      The first and third of those are completely bullshit though. I wonder if they slid into the manuscript in the copyediting phase.

      • Jsherry
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

        “Of course, the second one works because the semicolon is used properly in that sentence,” said the wanky academic. ;)

        How would you prefer to write the first and third examples? With em dashes to isolate the fragments?

      • ali rahemtulla
        Posted April 11, 2013 at 4:02 AM | Permalink

        *Occasionally :)

    • Posted April 21, 2013 at 2:03 PM | Permalink

      Amusingly, all but the third of those three semicolons would actually have been better off as colons: they are explaining or elucidating something, rather than being independent clauses on a common theme.

  15. Jsherry
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:40 AM | Permalink

    Some posters have already suggested or deflated a version with no internal punctuation at all, but I would argue that “You smell so good it’s making me stupid.” is the perfect version of the line, since it does two key things at once:

    1- It conveys the sudden rush of thoughts as they jumble from Sarah’s brain to her mouth, evoked by the power of surging Rothemones.

    2 – The technically incorrect grammar (lacking the “that” which would render the sentence sound) captures both the feel of casual, real dialogue (I’m a drama guy, so I spend my time thinking about how to write dialogue so that actors know how to make it sound real) and the loss of grammatical eloquence that Sarah clearly must be experiencing in that moment.

  16. PHXDale
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:41 AM | Permalink

    Just curious – what are those little en dashes for?

    • Anonimous
      Posted February 10, 2016 at 3:24 PM | Permalink

      Organized groups’s spans. Numbers, letters, values, it doesn’t matters: As long as you can organize it, you may use en dash for it.

  17. Posted April 7, 2013 at 11:57 AM | Permalink

    Oh my, I am an ellipsis addict as well! I am in a fiction writing workshop course in college right now and we have to critique each others’ work. I have one classmate who offered to send me a Word doc with all of his “suggested corrections.” I declined, of course . However, he made it clear that he was disgusted with my use of ellipses. My professor didn’t care for it either, but said perhaps it is a matter of style. Damn right it’s style! But can anyone tell me how else I would write this and capture the way this woman would have sounded?

    “Breech,” she gasped. “Not…going…to…make it.”

    Should I say:

    “Breech. Not going to make it,” she said, each word coming between labored gasps.

    No way. Not a chance, buck-o!

    • Anonimous
      Posted February 10, 2016 at 3:26 PM | Permalink

      I think you forgot an ellipsis between the wards “make” and “it”.

      • Anonimous
        Posted February 10, 2016 at 3:27 PM | Permalink

        Or you did a mistake and put an ellipsis between “going” and “to”.

  18. mesulli
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 12:11 PM | Permalink

    I can’t tell you how much I loved this post. From the obvious love for Sarah and Oot to the genuine puzzlement of how to punctuate a statement that would further demonstrate the love. And it was educational too! This is why I enjoy reading your musings, point or no. Thank you Pat.

  19. Posted April 7, 2013 at 12:41 PM | Permalink

    I do this in my head all the time…even though I’m usually not planning to write anything down. I just like thinking about how things would look written out, and the best way to get the proper emphasis across.

    This is probably why I decided to become an editor.

  20. Posted April 7, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Permalink

    What about no punctuation? “You smell so good it’s making me stupid.” It’s still grammatically incorrect, but the way I’m hearing it, there’s a “that” which is missing but still implied. If it’s one sentence, write it that way.

    And I love your ramblings. Keep it up. :-)

  21. raytheist1977
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 12:52 PM | Permalink

    This. This, right fucking here, is why I enjoy your writing so much. When I read your books, it is those million little details of perfection honed to a razors edge that only my sub-conscience notices that make it so enjoyable. This is why you will never hear me bitch about your time table or your writing process (besides, the key word there is “your”), every sentence is well worth the wait.

    P.S. My four year old daughter said Oot was a cutie. Fair warning.

  22. C.S. Lane
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Permalink

    Tyson: Depending on how tightly retentive your grammatical sphincter is, that might be considered acceptable. If you’re wibbeldy-wobbly with prescriptivism (as I am :-P ), you could claim that your version of the sentence contains an implied relative pronoun:

    “You smell so good [that] it’s making me stupid.”

    People talk like this all the time (e.g.: “I love her so much I could kiss her!” or “That movie was so good I went home immediately and wrote three hundred pages of trite, self-flattering fanfiction!”). While I wouldn’t often write narration like this, I’m cool with it showing up in dialog.

    • Graythebruce
      Posted April 7, 2013 at 4:06 PM | Permalink

      Yes, this. When you leave out the “who” or “that” you’re said by linguists to be using a “zero relative.” It’s acceptable in English. Even Shakespeare uses them. It’s also acceptable to use a comma elliptically, to indicate a word or phrase was left out. We do this all the time in other contexts, and the practice of using commas in such a manner is similarly dusty. Here’s Francis Bacon: “Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.” For this reason, I’d go with the comma between the clauses. There’s a difference between using a comma elliptically and using it because you don’t know the sentence has ended.

  23. debbiepf
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Permalink

    I am guilty. I am officially a “wanker.” Thanks Pat.

  24. thejamieturner
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Permalink

    Would it be equally wankerish to point out that you probably meant “affect” in the last big paragraph? Both could technically work in the sentence, but as you say, there are no small choices. :)

    (Brilliant post, though. I plan to share it with anyone who can’t believe I’m STILL revising the same five pages I was working on last week.)

  25. robe0255
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 1:10 PM | Permalink

    Pat, I love this, especially this “Semicolons are for wankers. Seriously. You can go your whole life without ever needing to really use a semicolon.” I used to be the features editor at the Pointer back in the day. I was Kate (sometimes Katey) Roberts back then — now Kate Edenborg. Now I teach at UW-Stout (yikes an academic : ) and teach writing and have been telling my students to avoid using semicolons. So very glad to have some support on that one (and it’s hard to come by as a journalist who works in an English department). So glad to see you’ve been doing so well!

    • Graythebruce
      Posted April 7, 2013 at 4:07 PM | Permalink

      Agreed. Students are far too happy to hit the semicolon key. I tell them that 95% of the time I see one in a student paper, it’s been used incorrectly to create a fragment sentence. Result? No change at all: Everyone thinks he or she is in that other 5%. :-)

    • Darren M
      Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:33 PM | Permalink

      Not a professional, but I noticed that Hillary Mantel made wonderful use of both colon and semi-colon in “Wolf Hall” and Bringing Up The Bodies.”

    • three west
      Posted April 9, 2013 at 9:25 PM | Permalink

      Isn’t the internet funny. I spent weeks over the winter scanning old pre-digital pics and tagging names before they are lost to time. I couldn’t remember if you spelled your name with an “e” or not.

      Oh, and thanks for the laugh Pat, though you did imply I have wankish tendencies.

      ~JD

  26. miss misery
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 1:54 PM | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been a loyal reader for a while now, but I’ve never left a comment. I’m in the middle of writing an academic paper that is due tomorrow (in which I have used several semicolons and the word “moreover” at least once), and when I saw you had a new blog post up I knew it would cheer me up. Well, I nearly spit out my drink. You are hilarious, this post is hilarious, and you have made me feel much better. There is nothing like laughing at yourself.

    Thank you for writing. Your books, your blog…they make me happy.

  27. Colts_pet
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 2:02 PM | Permalink

    as always i love what you’ve written, and how you’ve written it. i hope seeing bad grammar and near total lack of punctuation doesn’t drive you too crazy. ill just use auto correct. i have great thoughts, and great taste but lack education and ability to even begin to write the things i think with anything even approaching the beauty and alacrity with which you weave your words.
    Yours,
    With awe,
    Pet

  28. SuzyB
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 2:18 PM | Permalink

    I suppose you might come across a similar problem when trying to write, for instance, “She’s good at the ribs, I’m a leg man myself.”

  29. sandibd
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 2:27 PM | Permalink

    Ironicaly as I was reading this blog I was thinking, “This is a prime example of the detail Pat puts into his revisions.” So isn’t it nice that is actually the point you were going for. Keep revising, keep tickling, and moreover (couldn’t resist) enjoy life.

  30. Posted April 7, 2013 at 2:27 PM | Permalink

    Elipses… I’ve been trying to find a major consensus on whether or not they should be used with or without spaces between the periods. Any thoughts on that, Pat?

    “He was… a monster.”

    or

    “He was. . . a monster.”

  31. RowdyTheDog
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 2:32 PM | Permalink

    You’re a perfectionist Pat, and that is why we love you.
    And your work.

  32. LS
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 2:39 PM | Permalink

    I think I’m going to have to vote “Embrace the comma splice” on this one. I suppose the semicolon is technically correct, but that doesn’t really feel like a sentence that wants a semicolon.

  33. dmbeucler
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 2:59 PM | Permalink

    I am utterly amused. I get crap all the time for my love of comma splices to convey dialogue. I’m glad to see there is at least one other creature on this planet that understands that sometimes that really is the most elegant way.

  34. mitre67
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 3:54 PM | Permalink

    Just so you know, I fapped to this.

  35. little wilson
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 4:12 PM | Permalink

    I laughed in a very undignified manner throughout the entirety of this; I am not ashamed. :P You, Pat, are amazing. I love you. And your writing. And your awesomeness. And your hatred for the word “moreover”. I’ll forgive your hatred of semicolons….

  36. Dohtig
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 5:02 PM | Permalink

    This could be my most favorite post of yours ever. Taking something from your deep personal life and creating a wicked awesome grammar lesson out of it. While plying the grammar lesson to us to reveal tons of cool stuff about yourself. Beyond your books posts like this have made you my all time favorite author.
    Thank you

  37. Tom A
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 5:20 PM | Permalink

    Fantastic blog pat. I’m impressed and amused as always.

  38. Margaret
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 5:24 PM | Permalink

    I laughed when I read this… seriously laughed. See? I like ellipses also. I also tend to overuse commas. However, I do use the occasional semi-colon. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t seem to help myself sometimes.

    Thanks for the lesson, Pat. It’s truly awesome learning from you.

  39. Posted April 7, 2013 at 6:41 PM | Permalink

    Hmmm… so where do you stand on using words other than “said” to convey meaning in dialogue? Is it really just the author sticking his or her nose where it doesn’t belong?

    I could see “growled” adding something, unless she’s actively inhaling your fragrance, in which case I might be tempted to use “breathed.” “Purred” could probably suffice in a pinch; I could really see it striking the proper balance between OMG I’M A WANKER.

  40. chaelek
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 6:50 PM | Permalink

    I love that you referred to us as “little fuckers” for your assumption that we’d so misuse the en dash. Mind, I’m a professional student, so I barely know what language I’m typing in, let alone different dash protocols.

    Seriously though. Amazing blog post. I love random musing on tidbits of story telling like this.

  41. AtheistPreacher
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:14 PM | Permalink

    This is why I try not to take prescriptive grammar rules too seriously. Sometimes it’s just hard to get it right if you always draw within the lines.

    I mean, holy hell, in the intro to Star Trek: SNG, Picard uses a split infinitive: “to boldly go.” And you know what? It sounds better than “to go boldly.”

    Of course, punctuation is even trickier because there’s no sound and no word there — it’s just a mark. But personally, I tend to do what I’ve just done — use a dash. It’s probably the most versatile punctuation mark we have in English, and personally I wouldn’t mind seeing it used more. Done correctly it really shines. All you need to do is read Emily Dickinson to see that. Take Ben Yagoda’s example of one of Dickinson’s original poems versus how it was mangled in some published versions:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/22/mad-dash/

    The meadows—mine–
    The mountains—mine–
    All forests—stintless stars–
    As much of noon, as I could take–
    Between my finite eyes–

    The meadows mine, the mountains mine,—
    All forests, stintless stars,
    As much of noon as I could take
    Between my finite eyes.

    Suffice it to say, I love me some dashes.

  42. Christopher
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:14 PM | Permalink

    Grammar is very important. Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.

  43. LloydD
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:15 PM | Permalink

    Initially thought this was going to be the most literate letter to pent house ever. Not sure whether or not i’m happier with a post about correctly using grammar to convey emotion and nuance. well played

  44. Jam
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:18 PM | Permalink

    I don’t understand this blog anymore. You. smell. nice. How else may I worship you? Actually, maybe all I can say is: This blog once read like book 1..it now reads like book 2.

  45. lauraS
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 8:52 PM | Permalink

    Loved this post. Pat you are…well….amazing. But, there are two things in your post that I have not seen mentioned in any of the other responses. First, I would like to see more fan speculation on “More cool stuff this week. Stay tuned”. I am suspicious that the entire first portion of the blog is a literary form of magician chatter to distract the eyes (focus) off the hands.
    second-Harold and the purple crayon…?

  46. Posted April 7, 2013 at 9:25 PM | Permalink

    this blog is hugely entertaining. i enjoyed the heck out of it. also, my personal brand of prejudice is that i believe the shift key is for wankers. lowercase rules all the internet…

  47. bliss14
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:14 PM | Permalink

    So…when is the new book coming out?

  48. megan51387
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:25 PM | Permalink

    Fun! I especially like the last one.

    Maybe someone has said this already, but you don’t need any punctuation at all. What Sarah actually said was “You smell so good that it’s making me stupid.” In spoken English we often leave out the that (which is, in this case, acting as a subordinating conjunction to show a result.)

    Yep. Total grammar nerd.

    • megan51387
      Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:27 PM | Permalink

      Oops. Disregard the wonky italics. I may be a grammar nerd but conversant with basic HTML I am not.

  49. mannyvillarreal3
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:33 PM | Permalink

    The real question, as I see it, did you get some?

  50. Andrew Bedoy
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:22 AM | Permalink

    You know what I noticed while reading the sentence with COLOR helped me understand just as well as if you described it out. This is making wonder did you choose to use that color for any particular reason?

  51. tanis0
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:20 AM | Permalink

    I guess I had a wanker for a teacher at some point in early middle school. :) She was very big on the semicolon and actively promoted it’s use. Somewhere along the line, I started replacing all of my semicolons with em dashes — it just felt right — and I remember making the conscious choice and never looking back. I probably noticed that none of the novels I was reading really used semicolons, but I never really understood what I didn’t like about them. Can anyone describe what’s wrong with the semicolon?

  52. Abba Zaba
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:40 AM | Permalink

    Amusement on a Monday morning is hard to come by, much appreciated sir.

  53. Danny_Savides
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Permalink

    Beautiful, change Most importantly with moreover and we are in business

  54. AlistairM
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Permalink

    I have no smell, the girlfriend complains about this, its not fair she says. Apparently I have a mutated ABCC11 gene which causes that.

    I’m like the Fool in the Farseer novels. Nighteyes calls him the scentless one. :P

    • Posted April 9, 2013 at 3:02 AM | Permalink

      Seriously?

      • AlistairM
        Posted April 9, 2013 at 10:20 AM | Permalink

        Yeah, it’s a real thing. I’m not the only person, 1 in 50 people have the same mutation.

        Never needed deodorant unless I want to smell of that.

        Don’t get me wrong I still would smell if I didn’t wash as of bacteria and so on.

        But nope never smelt of anything really.

        It’s not the mutation I’d hope for… x-ray vision or invisibility would be more appreciated.

        • Jsherry
          Posted April 9, 2013 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

          I don’t know, that actually sounds like a potentially useful superpower for a spy or something…Slip past guard dogs…

        • Anonimous
          Posted February 10, 2016 at 3:37 PM | Permalink

          same here

  55. Posted April 8, 2013 at 10:02 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for the very erudite lesson on the beauty of rhythm and timing in prose. Brilliantly delivered.

    I admit that I listened to the audiobook version of your book three times in a row. The Rupert Degas version, of course. Good lord! Your prose and his voice together… sheer ear-porn.

    That being said, there was a line in there worthy of a second-edition re-write: at one point (and I paraphrase) a character – Denna? – gets to her feet and pulls Kvothe to his feet in the same sentence. IMHO, it would have flowed more elegantly to say, “she got to her feet and pulled me to mine”.

  56. SpookyGeek
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

    I’m not sure I agree with your semicolon hate, but it’s definitely a compelling argument that is going to force me to take a semi colon walkabout and find myself again…

    But yeah, people who use moreover are capital W Wankers.

  57. GabrielForcelledo
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 12:39 PM | Permalink
  58. GhostWriter
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 1:12 PM | Permalink

    Pat,
    Sometimes I think I can write okay. Then I read a blog like this and I realize that I am at best an amateur, and at worst a hack. Thank you for sharing these gems. I swear they’re more useful than a four year degree.

  59. MayKatje
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 4:50 PM | Permalink

    I learnt more about english punctuation reading this blog than in five years of italian high-school. Thank you kindly, sir.

  60. Alphonse
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 6:58 PM | Permalink

    Pat,
    I suggest you don’t ever read the translation of one of your books in french.

  61. Posted April 8, 2013 at 8:36 PM | Permalink
  62. Dulcet
    Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:28 PM | Permalink

    I just happen to be taking a break from writing my paper on sociological perspectives on cyberbullying. Take a wild guess at which perspective I just happen to have next…you ass. But yeah, I am a wanker until they give me that piece of paper that says I know crap.

  63. Alienegg
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 3:55 AM | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Rothfuss,
    I (and thousands of others) use semi colons every day and I am not a “wanker”. Really, I’m not.
    There is a profession that you and many others seem to have forgotten; that is, the profession of stenography or court reporting. They use the semi colon every day because they are turning the spoken word into the written word, so their rules for punctuation differ greatly from that of traditional writing. At last count, they have 11 rules or guidelines for the semi colon, 10 for the dash, 9 for the colon, 10 for the question mark, 6 for the period, and a whopping 42 guidelines for the comma. These rules can change depending on where you’re working and current trends in transcription. Their objective is to create a clear and understandable verbatim transcript of the proceedings, and in order to do that, they are not bound by the same shackles as a professional writer. Most people do not speak in perfect grammatical English, and if you’ve ever read a verbatim transcript of any court proceeding, you’d be more forgiving of the semi colon.
    As one of my instructors put it, punctuation can save lives.

    “Let’s eat, Grandma.” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma.”

    Not that I’m taking your blog post all that seriously, it’s just that my first response was “Hey! I use semi colons all the time, and I’m not a wanker!” (By the way, we are never supposed to use exclamation points because we are supposed to remain neutral and not make judgments about the emotional state of the speaker.)
    I do enjoy your blog post, and find you to be terribly witty.

    Kind regards,
    Kris

  64. Rjaudenes
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 10:10 AM | Permalink

    Sarah looked at me.
    “You smell so good…”, her eyes half-closed, with lust and passion, and she whispered: “It’s making me stupid.”

  65. Nathan Love
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 2:41 AM | Permalink

    If semicolons are for wankers, what are the people who use them for winky face emoticons? I feel like a wanker just using the word “emoticons”.

  66. Soren
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 6:38 AM | Permalink

    Pat, I think I have a serious problem. I read that of coolness this week, and I cannot but seeing your blog like 20 per day times to see if there is a new. Pat I damn you for being so good. But, seriously, I don’t know waht do you think of yourself, but let me say that you are probably the writer with the most beautiful style of writing. And I love Bast and Denna.

  67. ripshin
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 8:00 AM | Permalink

    Really? REALLY??

    Your lady just told you that your scent is making her stupid…and you decided THIS was the appropriate time to ponder the nuances of quantum grammacy?

    Dear god man! What is wrong with you?

    :)

    rip

  68. spencer
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 10:59 AM | Permalink

    My peeve is dashes with unbalanced spaces— please fix it!

  69. Shadow
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 4:40 PM | Permalink

    While you may dislike the semicolon… I have to say that without it I probably wouldn’t have made it through University (I graduate this May!). Frankly I am not good at writing. Heck, I flat out suck at writing! It’s probably why I enjoying reading so much.

  70. Posted April 10, 2013 at 4:42 PM | Permalink

    Pat:

    Question: My wife is finishing her 2nd play (1st was translated and produced in Germany).

    As she writes her dialogue I am concerned about what I believe to be her rampant ellipses abuse.

    She has them all over the place on nearly every page. I understand why she puts them in, for the dramatic pause. BUT, I don’t think they should be all over the place.

    Am I correct in this thinking that something else should be used for dramatic pause in dialogue?

    Or, is it appropriate for the dramatic play?

    Caleb

    p.s. I agree with Ripshin above…lol.

  71. Posted April 10, 2013 at 6:24 PM | Permalink

    I always thought that English teachers conspired to create the semi colon so they could come up with trick questions to put on grammer tests….

    I mean have you seriously ever had a question where the only missing punctuation was a semi colon? It’s really just messed up.

    Also – Side note – Oot looks so big in that picture!

  72. Posted April 10, 2013 at 9:41 PM | Permalink

    Pat, you are a magician.

    Mordant pedantry is chivalrous and it’s is definitely not dead…

    Especially with you around.

  73. JeanBeans
    Posted April 11, 2013 at 8:33 PM | Permalink

    Oh man. I feel so sad because I’m a wanker. I use semicolons all the time. Who knew?

  74. Posted April 12, 2013 at 8:18 AM | Permalink

    Ellipses are my favorite form of punctuation, followed by semicolons. What does that make me?

    Not only was that a cute story, but great grammatical advice too. Thanks Pat, I’ll be keeping it in mind.

  75. SeekingPlumb
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM | Permalink

    LIKE x gagillion!!

    This has to be one of my favourite posts of yours. It’s funny, it’s intellectually witty, & it’s educational &… poignant? Anyway, you made me smile, you made me laugh, & you made me think. :D Thank you for taking the time to fidget out every last use of punctuation!

  76. Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 2:10 PM | Permalink

    I guess I’m a wanker then. I love the semi-colon. It’s a grammar nerd thing, maybe. Really, there are certain constructions that just scream out for semi-colons. Mountain climbing and bicycling and other sports all have their cool specialized gear. Semi-colons are the specialized gear of language – with the same justification as the sporting gear. It exists, and therefore should be used where and when appropriate. I say, if the semi-colon be the freak flag of language geeks, long may it fly!

  77. Posted April 13, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Permalink

    I’ve been thinking about this blog for several days now and have a thought.
    Have you considered the tilde?
    A tilde implies some equivocation or approximation.

    The sentence could read,

    “You smell so good ~ It’s making me stupid.”

  78. craazymumma
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 5:14 AM | Permalink

    …they call me tickle me.. tickle me elmo :D

    (seriously torture my 2 under 4 daily)

  79. Jason H
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:00 PM | Permalink

    Like the silent “e” for spelling, you’ve stumbled on the silent “that” of grammar.

    “You smell so good [that] it’s making me stupid.”

  80. Jason H
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:06 PM | Permalink

    By the way, we do it all the time when speaking. I’ve told friends, “I loved The Name of the Wind so much I was depressed when I got to the last page.”

  81. Aphrael40
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 8:17 AM | Permalink

    OK, I so totally didn’t focus on all the punctuation… I went straight to the hind brain function and remembered EXACTLY a moment when my sense of smell got me in trouble:)

  82. Lorelei
    Posted April 16, 2013 at 12:58 PM | Permalink

    http://theoatmeal.com/tag/grammar

    For all of your grammar needs!

  83. ScarlettdeLux
    Posted April 16, 2013 at 4:10 PM | Permalink

    As a woman of child bearing age, I didn’t even need the punctuation. I know exactly how she said it. Which bears some speculation on the different ways men and women read your books, or books in general.

  84. chade25
    Posted April 20, 2013 at 12:38 AM | Permalink

    My day is complete. I thought I was odd for hating the stupid look semicolon. Just look at it; it’s ugly. It takes away from the art of writing with looks alone. They found their place though ;)

  85. Posted April 21, 2013 at 2:09 PM | Permalink

    It occurs to me that in this case the comma is actually completely valid. The full grammatical form is ‘so X that Y’, with Y being some consequence of the extreme nature of X (‘so tall that I can’t reach it’, ‘so fierce that none dare approach it’, &c.), and, as we all know, ‘that’ is often omitted in favour of the humble comma. I would even go so far as to say that, at least pedantically, ‘you smell so good’ is not a full independent clause worthy of standing proud next to a semicolon: the second part of the ‘so … that …’ construction has been most cruelly elided.

    The semicolon is a cruelly misinterpreted beast. He only wants to help authors avoid extraneous coördinating conjunctions. ☹

  86. Darren
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:21 AM | Permalink

    “‘There’s something very… I don’t know; primitive, perhaps, about you, Gurgeh. You’ve never changed sex, have you?’ He shook his head. ‘Or slept with a man?’ Another shake. ‘I thought so,’ Yay said. ‘You’re strange, Gurgeh.’ She drained her glass.
    ‘Because I don’t find men attractive?’
    ‘Yes; you’re a man!’ She laughed.”

    The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks

    Semicolon in speech twice in the same exchange, with a sidecar of space between ellipses and the next word.

  87. TheLoveHouse
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 11:09 PM | Permalink

    Might have worked out better if she’d used 7 words instead of 8… Just saying.

  88. Posted May 21, 2013 at 10:36 AM | Permalink

    Pat, you may really enjoy this Kids in the Hall sketch regarding a guy who shares your manly aroma. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpCIYlRRw_o

  89. alittlefaith4u
    Posted December 8, 2013 at 4:06 AM | Permalink

    Im not sure if you are aware of this but studies have shown that women love the Man Musk during Ovulation…

  90. Jakes
    Posted August 9, 2014 at 4:56 AM | Permalink

    Neil Gaiman uses semicolons.

  91. Hannah
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Permalink

    I hope that comment about en dashes wasn’t aimed at a very common typographical style in the UK where a spaced en dash – or the en rule, as it is known here – is used for asides and so forth. (As I’ve just demonstrated.)

    I much prefer it to an em rule, especially as it is visually distinctive from a proper interrup—
    —tion, which now has more impact on the page from not being overused on piffling asides.

    Incidentally, the spaced en rule has layout advantages in ebooks at the moment due to the inconstant and crappy way different devices handle line breaks for em rules. Em rules cause some fugly layout. Spaced en dash justifies nicely on a line, and with proper use of non-breaking spaces, will break on the right hand side but not on the left. I wish more publishers would pay more heed to good typography for ebooks. And don’t get me started on non breaking spaces and ellipses!

    Yours faithfully,
    A British wanker.

  92. Anonimous
    Posted February 10, 2016 at 2:39 PM | Permalink

    What’s the point in it? WHAT’S THE POINT IN IT?!?! It was more or less the first point since the time I was tought how to write that I can absorb as a whole without question marks, without little, annoyingly unimportant information pieces that I must to find and that I never did turn my attention onto. It was one of the best thing someone could ever tought me about writing (expect teaching me how to tell a story that actually develop as time pass, and not one that you feel like you stuck in time yet continue with the story line, but that one problem is probably a problem I could only end by wiping away all of my adjectives and the “momentary motions” as I usually call them, than writing the story, but oh well)

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