It was reported in the Guardian this week that the French regret the decline of the semicolon and blame it on the increasing use of English. See Céline’s translation weblog and Baroque in Hackney.

The French term is point-virgule, the German Semikolon or Strichpunkt.

Why is it not Punktstrich, you ask? Well, I have seen a German writing a semicolon, and they really did do the comma before the full stop.

Confirmations and even denials welcome.

14 thoughts on “Semicolon/Strichpunkt

  1. “Well, I have seen a German writing a semicolon, and they really did do the comma before the full stop.” Meaning, you don’t? Are you dotting your i’s before writing them, too? :-)

    • I write it from top to bottom. So you confirm my suspicions for Austria too? In which direction do you write a colon?

      No, I do the I before the dot. So am I to assume that German speakers see the dot in a semi-colon in the same way as a dot or an umlaut?

      • I don’t know if I can speak for all of Austria, but, yes, I write it as dotted comma, so to speak. The colon, on the other hand, I write from top to bottom.

        “No, I do the I before the dot. So am I to assume that German speakers see the dot in a semi-colon in the same way as a dot or an umlaut?” That’s an interesting question. I have always considered it as, as I’ve said, perhaps a special kind of comma, but then I really never thought about it all that much.

          • A confession: I, too, write the comma before the dot.
            I am sure this habit pre-dates my knowledge of German (I learned my first German word at age 13 – I could write long before that, and I was almost 18 before I trod German soil for the first time in my life).
            Subjectively, it “feels” like I am putting the larger symbols on paper first to make sure that I have enough space for them, and leaving the smaller bit (the dot) to last, because it is easy to find space for it.
            I have assimilated one or two superficial features of German handwriting (notably for 1, 7 and Z), but my handwriting in general does not look German in style, and I am rock-solid convinced that my semicolon craft is British in origin (and interested to learn that there is another British convention).

  2. Blame instead the decline of the French semi-colon on the increasing MIS-use of English punctuation, using instead dashes – a colon : or a full stop. Also that – often wrongly – assumes English punctuation impacts on the punctuation of other lingos which have their own system.

    At the moment, there is reportedly a Spanish/English mega-contract row over this very point: (note the colon and not semi-colon)

    ‘In the event of disputes, the parties shall first refer the contentious point to a court of law; and in (the) final instance (en ultima instancia) to the ICC in Paris as an arbitration body’. The Spanish, as written, may mean the ICC is the ultimate arbiter over Courts of Law*;* or, as punctuated, the ICC is an alternative avenue, as arbitration is meant to be. One party is complaining that the other party went straight to ICC arbitration and claims the courts should have been resorted to first.

  3. Margaret, I must admit the artilce feels as though you’re thinking that writing the dot first, then the comma, would be the orthodox, even the only proper way to write a semicolon, and only weird Germans (Austrians) would dare to write otherwise. Do British schools teach it that way?

    To my mind, too, the semicolon is somewhat of a comma with an additional dot to it. So I feel it would be natural to write the comma first.

    • I fear you are right about me regarding the German practice as odd (if it is the German practice). That was certainly my first reaction. I still think the one method is more common among German speakers and the other among English speakers, and apparently French speakers too.

      I can see the logic of writing the longer comma first. And I have no memory of being told how to write it – and Victor writes it differently from me, and guest writes it differently from other German speakers I have encountered. The only evidence of sequence I have is for i and t, when we talk about ‘dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s’, which makes me think (perhaps incorrectly) that the upstroke is there first.

  4. Interesting topic… I am german and I write the comma before the dot. I am not sure if I learned it that way in school or if it is only a habit of mine.

    I think it has to do something with the affinity to the i (nearly an italic i) for me.
    And I was thinking the majority is writing it that way but I never really thought about it before.

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