Phil asked: 'I often wonder why I have to justify my (correct) use of the semicolon. Why do people hate them?
I think, like so many of us, the poor semicolon is just misunderstood. People aren't taught how to use them so they hold some sort of mystery. And what people don't understand, they can be inclined to dislike. Alas, this is often the fate of our beloved semicolon.
Following neatly on, Lloyd asked: 'What's the difference between a colon and a semicolon (except the shift on a keyboard)?
I'm glad you asked. Colons are used to introduce things (at the start of a list, for example), or when you wish to follow a statement with supplementary information.
Today, Sarah will be discussing three topics: semicolons, onomatopoeia and -ize spellings.
Lloyd likes punctuation: he is especially fond of exclamation marks.
Semicolons are used to divide clauses, items in a list, ideas...
Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let him sleep.
Sarah's hat collection includes a stripy, pointy one; a blue, crocheted one; and a red, woolly one.
Note that in the example above, each clause contains a comma between the adjectives and is separated from other clauses by a semicolon.
For a more detailed explanation, I recommend David Crystal's Rediscover Grammar. This book is aimed at beginners but helped get me through my degree, much to my tutor's amusement.
Ann asked: 'Is 'wobble' onomatopoeic? Or is it a whole other class of word... can't explain properly but it just sounds wobbly!'
(For the benefit of other readers, Ann and I studied linguistics together for three years so she knows at least as much as I do about this sort of thing. Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like the thing it represents, like cuckoo, sizzle, pop, or buzz.)
I think onomatopoeia is the sort of description that doesn't have fixed boundaries. And yes, I think wobble qualifies. It does sound wobbly. Love it.
Phil (also a clever former linguistics student who doesn't need to consult me about these things) asked: 'Why does Oxford prefer the /iz/ spellings (e.g. realize) when almost every other UK source now prefers the /is/ variants?'
Yes, a very valid question, and one I'm not really qualified to answer. It's obviously an internal editorial decision they've made, and not one I like, either. One of my clients, a publisher which does a lot of co-editions (books published jointly with anther publisher overseas) uses the /iz/ spellings to make things easier for their American counterparts, which is probably at least partly a financial decision. Oxford also have two dictionaries to search on their website: 'US English' and 'World English'. That makes me a bit uncomfortable. I have nothing against 'The World' but Oxford is supposed to be British and I'd like to see UK English strongly represented too!
Phil also wants to know fun wordy facts. 'For example, the longest English word you can write using only the top line of a QWERTY keyboard is TYPEWRITER. And the longest word English word using all the vowels only once is UNCOPYRIGHTABLE.'
This is not an area of speciality for me (I like them, but don't tend to remember them)! I know I can rely on others to help me out, though. So if you have any such amusements to share, I'd be grateful if you'd leave them in the comments below. Alternatively, if you're a Twitter user, tweet them to @sarahgiles and I'll retweet them so they appear in the panel on the right. --->
I hope this mini-series of linguistic delights has been helpful and/or interesting. I welcome your feedback: again, please leave a message below if you are so inclined. Thanks!