Tuesday, 12 February 2013


I'm not especially aware of what style I use to type but it's sometimes nice to stop and ponder.

Last year I was reading a "grammar" book by Lynn Truss, Eats Shoots and Leaves. In it she humorously explains a brief history of english typography including the apostrophe, comma, period, colon, and semicolon. Consider that once upon a time none of these notations existed. Early tellings of the bible had not even spaces between words. Hard to imagine, but there you have it.

I remembered reading the following passage, to which I scan on this here blog directly:

An entire book without a single semicolon? A mundane factoid at best. Who cares, right? Now it just so happens I'm reading Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco.

While enjoying the story and not even thinking about the above quote, on page 202 I stumbled across this paragraph:

What's that thing there on the fifth line? Oh my god, a SEMICOLON!

Come on Lynn, were you just joking around or did you not a) check your "academic" source or b) read the book? Is being apocryphal the same as plain false? I dunno...

Here's the best part: Googling this gaffe has led me to others quoting Lynn's claim. See here and here, for instance.

Moral of the story: when you do some homework it's funnier for everyone. When you don't, it's just funny for me, I guess.


  1. Could be a new edition put it in when they fact-checked the biblical verse being quoted. It doesn't mean Eco was lying. Great book though (The Name of the Rose).

  2. Glad you caught that! But then on page 203 (the very next page!) there's another passage, this time a snippet of dialogue between Adso and William:

    "But we weren't talking about Francis; we were talking about how heresy is produced by the simple and the outcast."

    I checked my edition and it's 1983 (the original english translation). But indeed, I wonder if Eco ever said that. Looks like an urban legend to me.

  3. Hmm, but then again it is a translation after all. I guess Eco didn't have control over that part. I'm liking the book though.