No Country/Place For Exclamation Marks And Semicolons

The RoadThere are certain punctuation marks that irk us, whether by their overuse or the rampant misuse. For me, exclamation marks and semicolons fall into both categories. They are, after all, impossible to ignore and create all sorts of unintended meanings and unintentional humour/horror in the wrong hands.

I may, if pressed, also admit that my aversion to semicolons is at least in part because I am terrified of using them incorrectly myself. I mean, I know how to use them, but then over think it and worry that I don’t.

I mightn’t be making much of a dent with my ‘die, exclamation marks and semicolons, die’ movement (I realise that sounds a tad aggressive and melodramatic but, well, they have that effect on me. And yes, I’m aware of the irony that the previous sentence is one place where an exclamation mark could be appropriately applied), but someone else is.

That someone happens to be Cormac McCarthy, AKA author of such revered bestsellers oft adapted into movies as The Road, All the Pretty Horses, and No Country for Old Men. AKA the guy who hasn’t written just one knock-out book that went on to be made into a knock-out film that in turn refocused interest on and resulted in further sales of the knock-out book, but many.

No Country For Old MenHe’s secretly (or secretly to us general fans, anyway) turned his hand to editing, improving work and excising pesky exclamation marks and semicolons, reportedly claiming that those two punctuation marks ‘have no place in literature’ (I’m trying to resist make a pun about how there’s no country/place for…exclamation marks and semicolons). High five for McCarthy. And high five for his editees, who appreciate his editorial input.

Physics professor Lawrence M Krauss told The Guardian: ‘I was thrilled that Cormac volunteered to do this. He said he…loved the book so much that he wanted to make it better.’ Hmm, backhanded compliment, much?

I love, though, that Krauss recognises that McCarthy’s edits are highly useful and valid, even if they’re slightly scathing and stripping. I guess, though, McCarthy’s writer-of-world-revered-fiction reputation precedes him and it wouldn’t be a case of ‘You want me to remove what?’ as ‘I’ll hold the delete button down and you tell me when to lift my finger off it’.

Still, such a dubious compliment will undoubtedly be repaid with book sales: ‘Having Cormac’s name on the paperback is one of the biggest honours I could imagine,’ said Krauss. Yep, especially as ‘honour’ could also be known as ‘book-sale dollars derived from being associated with him’.

One can only dream of being advised and edited by the likes of McCarthy. I’m hoping, though, that with his influence my dream of exterminating exclamation marks and semicolons will become a reality.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.