The rise and fall of the semicolon.

It was used as a question mark. Used as a comma. Technical journals required a certain number of them in each publication. The Son of Sam killer was thought to be a freelance journalist because he knew how to use it.

Now, the point-virgule is an endangered species. Frankly, I don’t like them. Not at all. A comma is a simple short pause, and a semicolon is like a train wreck. The reader is paralyzed, not knowing what to do or understanding how or why the previous and following portions of a sentence are connected or even related.

The only time I advocate using a semicolon is when writing game text that has run out of other kinds of punctuation. When you’ve already used a comma, dash, and colon in the same sentence, you have no choice.

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8 Responses to The rise and fall of the semicolon.

  1. Brad says:

    They are good for winks too ;)

  2. Beanie says:

    My Dear Socho,

    I am afraid I must take some issue with your disdain for the semicolon; in my experience, I have found it to be a constant and useful companion. The ability to link together two separate, but related, thoughts is essential; the informality of the dash or the overused, muddled mess that is the elipsis would be a poor substitute for the clear statement of the semicolon.

    “We are capable of standing alone; however, we choose not to.”

    I regard it as the grammatical equivalent of marriage.

  3. Kathy says:

    Oh, I hope it doesn’t go away. I like semi-colons. Commas aren’t grammatically correct if they replace a properly-used semi-colon, and sometimes the sentences are too closely associated together to be separated by a period. Don’t even get me started on the overuse of the ellipsis.

    It could be said that I have a soft spot for the semi-colon.

  4. Kindralas says:

    Beanie, I don’t actually think any of those statements were appropriate uses of the semicolon, either. In all of those cases, use of a period and beginning a new sentence seems more appropriate, or a complete rewording altogether (to wit: “While we are capable of standing alone, we choose not to.”)

    Semicolons, as I was taught, are a simple substitute for the word “and,” and are mostly used as a shortcut in poetry and journalism, places where saving space and/or meter are more appropriate. Because using conjunctions over punctuation is easier on the reader, it’s generally not called for in any case. “Gunman opens fire in park; kills two,” for example.

    And 99% of people out there don’t effectively use commas either. Half of that group either forget to use them at all, and the other half use far too many. I belong to the latter.

  5. Beanie says:

    Kindralas: Your use of the semi is certainly correct, and there is some debate about the other uses of the semicolon. The Chicago Style Manual does not support the use of the semi preceeding a conjunctive adverb or phrase (such as “that is” or “however”). Strunk and White and APA, on the other hand, do support this use. In general, if the writer wishes to link together two independent clauses (that otherwise could support a full stop), the semicolon is the appropriate punctuation mark.

    So we’re both right. ;)

    I will say, however, that this debate probably supports Socho’s point — if we can’t agree on proper usage, its worth is suspect. But I, for one, will not abandon my beloved semicolon.

  6. Kindralas says:

    Yeah, I can’t get rid of it either, I’m too addicted to smileys. :P

  7. Mkae says:

    They’ll take my semi-colon away when they pry it from my cold dead typewriter.

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