Robert L. Cohen, Editor Words "You are one of those experts who make others look better than they really are." (CLIENT TESTIMONIAL)
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Editor Extraordinaire
Over 25 years’ experience editing scholarly, trade (general-interest), & reference books — from fine-tuning to rewriting

Plus: speech & contract writinglexicographywriting teaching
Subject Specialties
  Urban Affairs & Public Policy · International Relations · History & Social Sciences · Psychology & Education · Politics & Government ·
Media & Communications · Language Arts · Music ·
Judaica & Religion · Sports
  Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
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  for think tanks & non-profit org’s:  working papers /
reports / newsletters / books
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articles / theses & dissertations / memoirs
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“I am attached to, intoxicated by, mad about words, language, pages, anything composed of letters.  Language is life:  God spoke and the world came into being.”

— Nessa Rapoport
   (author of Preparing for Sabbath)

Language Matters

Thoughts on Punctuation: The Semicolon

As we’ve recently elected a President who has been praised (and, by others, chastised) for his appreciation of nuance, it might be a good time for a few words on that underappreciated mark of punctuation,  the semicolon.  Underappreciated, at least, in the United States, according to The New Yorker magazine critic Louis Menand — who maintains that “there’s an animus against the semicolon in American journalism because it adds nuance.  It makes the reader think that the relationship between two independent clauses is more complex.”

The semicolon, notes the English writer Trevor Butterworth, is indeed “a pause for ambiguity, complexity, and nuance.”  As such, I would argue, it conveys not only the writer’s comfortableness with these qualities, but the (flattering) assumption that his or her readers will be equally comfortable with them.

And the “pause” part is meaningful, too.  (Butterworth playfully entitles his essay “Pause Celebre.”)  Semicolons impart rhythm and cadence; they function to make writing more elegant — more graceful and balanced.  They suit those who, in Butterworth’s delicious rendering, want to “woo with words.”

“No subject . . . is so complicated that it can't be explained in clear English.”

— Patricia T. O'Conner
   (in Words Fail Me)

Quote Unquote

Armchair Reading

Gabriel Zaid
So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance

"[T]he truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more," writes Gabriel Zaid, consolingly, in this delightful morsel of a book.  In a dozen charming essays, the author discourses on books as conversation and as sources of both wisdom and humility, while contributing to the conversation and adding some wisdom.

Available for purchase at


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