I Still Love You, Mr. Vonnegut

BarbedWireHeartSemicolons get a bad rap. I’ve heard people say, point-blank, to avoid them like a disease; divide the sentence into two separate sentences if you need to.” Even more disheartening was this sass from my hero:

Don’t use semicolons. They stand for absolutely nothing. They are transvestites, hermaphrodites. They’re just a way of showing off, to show that you have been to college. 

                         —Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Albion College, January 1, 2002

Ouch. Do not empower those who judge harshly, I say. The semicolon seems pedantic why—because you’re unsure how to use one? It has the unique power to unite two complete sentences that could stand alone but are related in context, so why separate them? Why not welcome a tool such as this to join two independent clauses into one concise thought? It makes me wonder why the heart is the quintessential symbol of love. I semicolon you is perfectly romantic.

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Yeah, Right

OwlEyes

Do you have a quick answer to this question? If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Here’s mine: Sidney Morgenbesser. Unfortunately, he is of the latter category. A revered philosophy professor at Columbia University for five decades, he was in the business of blowing minds. Noam Chomsky once stated that he was “one of the most knowledgeable and, in many ways, profound thinkers of the modern period.” He was “a philosopher in the old sense,” Dr. Chomsky explained. “Not so much what’s on the printed page but in debate and inspiring discussion.” Some have even likened him to a modern-day Socrates.

Those unfamiliar with the man may be thinking he was a crotchety, elbow-patched academic. I bear no evidence of his choice in outerwear, but he was widely known for his witticisms, often wrapped around a prickly sense of humor, which he used to provoke meaningful discussions. Open, generous, sensitive, and unpretentious, he was loved for the intensity of his engagement and his passion for relevant discourse. He’s been described as not so much an idea architect but a distiller of truths. In defending himself to those critical of his lack of published works, he quipped: “Moses published one book. What did he do after that?”

My favorite zinger illustrating the deftness he so naturally possessed came from a lecture he attended as an audience member. The speaker was fellow philosophy professor, at Oxford, J.L. Austin, who said, “In English, a double-negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double-negative remains a negative. But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double-positive can express a negative.”

In a dismissive voice from the back of the room came Morgenbesser’s reply: “Yeah, right.”