Thursday, February 05, 2009

Sometimes a Semicolon Is Just a Semicolon

Could this be an early example of an emoticon?

A historical newspaper specialist at the digital archival company Proquest believes he has found an example of a sideways winking smiley face embedded in The New York Times transcript of an 1862 speech given by President Lincoln. Other historians are not so sure, saying the semicolon alongside a closed parenthesis is either a mistake or a misinterpretation of something that is perfectly grammatical for that era. [Link]
I vote for "misinterpretation of something that is perfectly grammatical for that era." I've seen plenty of 19th-century cases where a comma or (less commonly) a semicolon was placed before a closing parenthesis rather than after. All that makes this case notable is that the punctuation follows the word "laughter."

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