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I recently read "The Cask of Amontillado" for pleasure, and I found this passage:

He had a weak point –this Fortunato –although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially; –I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

I found it most peculiar that Poe followed a semicolon with a space and then an em-dash. It seemed natural and made sense.

I've never seen this style of punctuation in any other literature I've read. Is this something that is okay to use in similar situations? What's the consensus on this usage?

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Good catch - it shows careful reading. But consider that the story was published in 1846 (and probably written the year before). Today we might use either the semicolon or the em-dash (but not both). Typically, the part after a semicolon is a complete sentence - one that is closely related to the first part (also usually a complete sentence).

(I'm glad to hear you read it for pleasure - rather than as punishment.)

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Why would anyone not read this for pleasure? It's an engaging story by a great storyteller :) –  Soylent Green Jan 21 at 19:15
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I'd say that there are differences in length-of-pause indication signalled by different choices of punctuation. From quick run-on to full pause for thought, I'd suggest:

In this respect I did not differ from him materially, as I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

In this respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

In this respect I did not differ from him materially; I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

In this respect I did not differ from him materially - I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

In this respect I did not differ from him materially. I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

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