February 19, 2008

Burgeoning and otherwise

The NYT keeps track of the relative popularity of its online stories, by counting how often readers click on the "email" link; and today's Most Emailed story is Sam Roberts, "Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location", about an anti-littering poster on the New York City subways that reads, in part, "Please put it in a trash can; that's good news for everyone".

Language Log readers will already know about this poster, because Geoff Nunberg discussed it here a week ago. And the Times story quotes Geoff's post: "Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, praised the 'burgeoning of punctuational literacy in unlikely places.'" (In fairness, Geoff's post gave a hat-tip in turn to Sam Roberts.)

The other quotes in Roberts' story come from Louis Menand, Lynne Truss, Allan Siegal -- and one other linguist:

The linguist Noam Chomsky sniffed, "I suppose Bush would claim it's the effect of No Child Left Behind."

But I suspect that the reason for the story's "most emailed" status is neither the public's interest in punctuation nor the eminence of the authorities quoted, but rather the correction added this morning:

Correction: February 19, 2008
An article in some editions on Monday about a New York City Transit employee's deft use of the semicolon in a public service placard was less deft in its punctuation of the title of a book by Lynne Truss, who called the placard a "lovely example" of proper punctuation. The title of the book is "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" — not "Eats Shoots & Leaves." (The subtitle of Ms. Trussís book is "The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.")

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 19, 2008 01:18 PM