On Semicolons

Semicolons are sexy; yet I suspect you’ve never really considered it until now.  They are woefully neglected in modern language; in fact, I’ve had a few teachers and writing professionals tell me that semicolons ought to be stricken from the rules of grammar.  Should you allow it, I will endeavour to tell you why I disagree; those esteemed gents’ bemoaning over this versatile punctuation mark was rather misguided, and frankly dramatic.  But be warned, I could be entirely incorrect about the cause of their frustration; they may just have really needed to get laid.

Speaking of, if you’re looking to bed a logophile, I suggest that you correctly use one in your written exchanges; few things are as smooth as the nimbly-placed semicolon in casual conversation.  If the object of your courtship is fond of all things word and grammar related, then he or she will not be able to resist the charms of your sleek sentence structures; they will drift in the melodies of your locutions as they would luxuriate in the soft croon of a Spanish guitar; you will enrapture them.  And to think, you won’t even have to learn to play a classical acoustic instrument; just educate yourself on how to use a semicolon, and it will induce the titillating effect you desire.

There are, of course, further distinctions that may be associated with the occasional use of semicolons; the first of which being that they look more prestigious than your average comma; they will condense your thesis statement into a single, grammatically correct sentence; and they are incredibly useful for lists.  Sir Francis Bacon took great pleasure in concocting paragraphs of abstract ideas; all technically a single sentence, and often self-contradictory.  His use of semicolons is something to be studied at length, (pun intended); we would all benefit from emulating this snarky, magnificent bastard.  With that said, preoccupy yourself immediately with the business of mastering this ill-used form of punctuation; go forth and undertake the meager challenge of proficiency in this area.  Not only will you cast aside your ignorance of the joys of the semicolon, but you will also become more literate than you were previously; imagine that.

Until now, I have only illustrated some of the more obscure uses as I see them; with this in mind, it has occurred to me that I should probably direct your attention to a few tidbits of actual fact.

  1. Your probable guesses were correct; the semicolon was invented by an old guy a really long time ago.  Seriously, his name was Aldus Manutius the Elder, and he was around in 1494; he was also an Italian, and his invention is a direct testament to exactly how lazy we are as a people sometimes.  If the rules don’t fit our needs, we create new ones; see: The Doctrine of Fascism by Benito Mussolini.
  2. The purpose of a semicolon is to produce the opportunity for a sentence to contrast related ideas; the words are usually opposing, though that is not a grammatical requirement.
  3. The ideas separated by the semicolon must be independent clauses; I cannot stress this enough.  If one part of the separated sentence could not stand alone as its own sentence, you may not use a semicolon; this also serves as the easiest method to determine whether you are using a semicolon correctly in terms of grammar.  Simply place a period where you would insert the semicolon; if either of the sentences are fragments, you have misused this glorious punctuation mark, and will endure punishment from Participles, otherwise known as the Greek god of grammar.
  4. This particular characteristic is my favourite one; semicolons ensure that the two interrelated ideas that you’ve chosen to iterate are considered to be of equal weight in importance.  This is crucial, especially when countering your own argument, because the semicolon does not let the reader distinguish importance by which article came first; instead, it forces the notion that either side of the sentence are on the same level, and that they both deserve the respect of critical thought.

I would suggest keeping these facts in mind while on your journey to semicolon perfection; they might just save your line.

Finally, I would like to discuss some artistic merits of the semicolon; or at least, the artistry with which I attempt to use it, and what it means to me.  You see, when I look at a semicolon, I don’t see a period stacked on top of a comma; the mark does not appear to me like it was haphazardly invented.  It has a noble purpose; it signifies that there is more to be considered.  Because of this, I see the semicolon as beautiful; it reminds us that the end of the sentence has not yet arrived; it humbly demands your patience before you rush to conclude your thoughts on the matter.  So frequently now do we tumble through our online lives, constantly wading through content, quickly classifying it as relevant or irrelevant, tossing aside creativity in favour of clichés, and generally destroying the concept of critical thinking; and yet amongst this madness, hidden in a corner of dedicated observers, remains the sadly overlooked semicolon.  But used compellingly, this graceful mark forces a pause;

perhaps if more people understood semicolons, we might begin to understand each other.

And so my dear friends, I will take up the long-forgotten mantle; I will champion the semicolon; I will prod; I will goad; I will sway; and I will coax it into the hearts of the men whose callous opinions have eroded its former prestige.  I shall not go gentle into that good-night; I shall rage against the dying of the semicolon.  Will you?


I remain, insufferably,







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