From an SFGate.com story by David Kravets and Lisa Leff, AP writers:

Two judges delayed taking any action Tuesday to shut down San Francisco’s same-sex wedding spree, citing court procedures as they temporarily rebuffed conservative groups enraged that the city’s liberal politicians had already married almost 2,400 gay and lesbian couples.

The second judge told the plaintiffs that they would likely succeed on the merits eventually, but that for now, he couldn’t accept their proposed court order because of a punctuation error.

It all came down to a semicolon, the judge said.

“I am not trying to be petty here, but it is a big deal … That semicolon is a big deal,” said San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren.
The Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund had asked the judge to issue an order commanding the city to “cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to and/or solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples; to show cause before this court.”

“The way you’ve written this it has a semicolon where it should have the word ‘or’,” the judge told them. “I don’t have the authority to issue it under these circumstances.”…

Lawyers for both sides then spent hours arguing about punctuation and court procedures during the hearing, which was still continuing late Tuesday afternoon.

There’s nothing sweeter than the sound of lawyers arguing about punctuation!

(Via Transblawg.)


  1. As a self-confessed semicolon addict, I’m love, love, LOVING this story. (Look, Mom: a sentence with no semicolons!)

  2. I like to imagine His Honor looking over their text with a red pen in hand and an “Aha!” on his lips.
    Sir Ernest Gowers has a fine passage on semicolons:
    The semicolon is also useful for avoiding the rather dreary trailing participles with which writers often end their sentences:

    The postgraduate teaching hospitals are essentially national in their outlook, their geographical situation being merely incidental.
    An attempt to devise permanent machinery for consultation was unsuccessful, the initial lukewarm response having soon disappeared.

    There is nothing faulty in the grammar or syntax of these sentences, and the meaning of each is unambiguous. But they have a tired look. They can be wonderfully freshened by using the semicolon, and rewriting them:

    The postgraduate teaching hospitals are essentially national in their outlook; their geographical situation is merely incidental.
    An attempt to devise permanent machinery for consultation was unsuccessful; the initial lukewarm response soon disappeared.

  3. Thanks, Jason. I (like Lorianne) like using semicolons, but I’ve never stopped to analyze their contribution to a sentence.

  4. I’ve been told I speak with semicolons. They’re a wonder: that lilting, hanging pause that says, I’ve finished the sentence, yes, but hang on, here’s another coming down the pike that’s closely related; wait for it. You’ll see.
    And while I’m pleased as punch a semicolon stepped up and took one for the team, I can’t help but worry about the poor paralegal who’s going to get the shaft for dropping the copyediting ball…

  5. Unfortunately, the semicolon error wasn’t part of a capital case. Eighth grade teachers would have a real weapon in their hands if there was a movie of, for example, Winona Ryder walking her last mile because her lawyer had mispunctuated.
    Or if you don’t have a Winona Ryder fetish, maybe John Travolta or Brad Pitt.

  6. semi-colons; dashes — any excuse for loose-jointed apposition makes my day.

  7. The problem with the proposed order is not with the semicolon but the lack of “or” after it. Perhaps the plaintiff uses Prolog.

  8. Laurence Sterne. The road not taken for English punctuation.
    No, I can’t imitate him, but throw in these somewhere: — — ; ; …..

  9. You’re not thinking of Lord Timothy Dexter, by any chance? You just mentioned pickles in another thread, so A Pickle for the Knowing Ones might have crept into your mental tent. At any rate, no one can imitate Sterne, and it would probably be fatal to attempt it.

  10. I once was told by an English professor “You know, I’ve never had to say this before, but you use too many semicolons in your writing.” I’ve always felt I need to use them enough to make up for all the people who don’t.
    I also use them in email, despite the article I once read saying it was pretentious. It’s how I write.

  11. scarabaeus stercus says

    Never did Know how too join two word pieces to-gether so lookin’ up colon knowin’ that semi is half; did find that a colon joins the cecum to the rectum.
    but A comma does wonders to a set of words too;
    Fear not , kindness restrains the wicked.
    or should it be
    Fear, not kindness, restrains the wicked.
    for the Latinist to keep the meaning straight
    Metus improbus compescit, non clementia.
    syrus maxims.

  12. In the same vein, O Beetle, is the autobiography of a newspaper copy-editor, which he dedicates to “my parents, Marilyn Monroe[,] and God.”

  13. I think the above is my first LH comment.

  14. A grizzled veteran of the Hattery!

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