Those groovy semicolons

August 20, 2012

At Macmillan Dictionary Blog, I’ve been writing about semicolons and the word groovy. Links and excerpts follow.

Semi-attached to semicolons looks at some of the attitudes and strategies this punctuation mark inspires:

The usefulness of semicolons is apparent in all types of prose, yet the mark is not universally liked or adopted. Many writers gladly include it in their set of grammatical and rhetorical tools, and some positively adore it, but others avoid it altogether or even go out of their way to insult it.

Much as I love Kurt Vonnegut, I think he was wrong to dismiss semicolons, unpleasantly, as “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing”. In a video of the writer restating his line we hear a hall full of students receiving it with laughter and applause. But I doubt many of them have pondered the matter at length and reached the same conclusion.

The post continues with a look at the effect of Vonnegut’s remark and with a quick empirical assessment of my own semicolon usage (which I feared would be excessive). Comments so far are generally positive about the mark, and some are very enthusiastic. Where do you stand?


The different grooves of ‘groovy’ sketches the word’s development over the last century and a half, showing the different meanings it has had along the way. Its original 19thC sense was physical, having to do with grooves. However:

Within a few decades, groovy had taken on a figurative sense, as words tend to do. . . . From groove meaning rut or (routine) way of life, groovy came to mean staid, stuck in a rut, or tending to stick to a narrow or conservative way of life. So it was mildly pejorative, quite contrary to its familiar current meaning.

The jazz age in America gave birth to the phrase in the groove, and from this emerged another groovy: playing jazz or other music with seemingly effortless skill, or being capable of doing so.

Groovy is often associated with its hippie heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s. When this era ended, the word took a precipitous dip before regaining popularity in the 1980s, thanks in part to pop culture. You can read its groovy mini-history here.

Comments, as always, are welcome here or there, and older articles are available in my Macmillan archive.