Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Richard Feynman and the semi-colon?

The novelist’s corrections appear to be more literary than scientific. In addition to suggested some rephrasing, Mr. Krauss, said, Mr. McCarthy “made me promise he could excise all exclamation points and semicolons, both of which he said have no place in literature.” (A quick digital search through Mr. McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy” and several other novels finds no examples of the offending punctuation.)

Cormac McCarthy has copyedited a new biography of Richard Feynman, Lawrence M. Krauss's Quantum Man.  HT Paper Cuts.


languagehat said...

I'm confused. What the devil is Cormac McCarthy doing acting as a copyeditor? Would he appreciate me writing his novels for him? Anyone who deletes all semicolons has no more business copyediting than someone who deletes all apostrophes. You have a right to your personal peeves, Cormac, but no right to inflict them on the world at large. Also: ne ultra crepidam.

Phil Duncan said...

I'm conflicted about exclamation points. Sometimes I'll find one logically necessary to punctuate a character's speech, but when I go to edit its very look offends me.

But Nabokov used semicolons and that pretty much ends the discussion for me.

Helen DeWitt said...


So the very afternoon I arrived in Princeton I'm going to the dean's tea, and I didn't even know what a "tea" was, or why! I had no social abilities whatsoever; I had no experience with this kind of thing.

["Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"]

This does not, admittedly, sound much like Cormac McCarthy, but it does sound very much like Richard Feynman. As does

MIT had built a new cyclotron while I was a student there, and it was just beautiful!

Seems as though one might want to preserve the voice of the Great Feynman in a biography of the man.

jessica said...

I've heard that Annie Dillard hates semicolons.

Phil Duncan said...

How dare you burden CM's vision with questions of authorial intent? Maybe some hack scientist thinks he can string some words together, but Cormac is a pro. The cyclotron wasn't beautiful. The cyclotron was a device finally sufficient to try whether the stuff of creation may be shaped to man's will or whether is own heart is not another kind of clay.

leoboiko said...


$ grep ';' moby_dick.txt |wc -l
$ grep '!' moby_dick.txt |wc -l

$ grep ';' a_tale_of_two_cities.txt |wc -l
$ grep '!' a_tale_of_two_cities.txt |wc -l

and this is just counting the lines, not even counting multiple characters in the same line.