If you’re a semicolon kind of guy (or gal), you’re not alone: Ben Dolnick, writing in the New York Times, tells the story of his love affair with that much-misused punctuation mark:
My disdain for semicolons outlasted my devotion to Vonnegut. Well into college I avoided them, trusting in the keyboard’s adjacent, unpretentious comma and period to divvy up my thoughts. I imagined that, decades hence, if some bright-eyed teenager were to ask me for advice, I’d pass Vonnegut’s prohibition right along, minus the troublesome bit about transvestites and hermaphrodites. By now I’d come across Isaac Babel’s famous description of periods as irons capable of stabbing the heart. And I knew, of course, that commas were indispensable. The semicolon sat there in my literary utensil drawer like a cherry pitter, theoretically functional, but fussy and unloved and probably destined for the yard-sale table.
So it’s been with considerable surprise, these past few years, that I’ve found myself becoming something of a cherry-pitting maniac. This may just, as Vonnegut says, reflect the fact that I’ve now been to college, though honestly I can’t remember anyone’s expressing a single semicolon-related sentiment while I was there. Regardless, I’ve come to love the awkward things, and to depend on them for easing me through a complex thought.
Do you use semicolons regularly in your writing? Or do you, like Kurt Vonnegut, believe they just “show you’ve been to college”?
- Semicolon lovers may also enjoy this take on what your favorite punctuation mark says about you.