The Semicolon

Grant Barrett gbarrett at AMERICANDIALECT.ORG
Fri May 14 17:05:35 UTC 1999

A thrilling, long exposition on the joy and challenge of the semicolon:,1051,SAV-99

(Make sure to get the whole address on one line if you copy and paste)


Once dismissed as a fussy, somewhat effete affectation, the white-gloved
cousin to the callused, workaholic comma or brutally abrupt period, the
semicolon may be coming into its own.

Most people, truth to tell, still seem somewhat intimidated by the
semicolon; it smacks of deep thoughts and book-lined studies, of long,
thoughtful pauses accompanied by rhythmic strokes of the chin. The marks are "so
pipe-smokingly Indo-European," essayist Nicholson Baker once wrote.


Traditionally, students have been a bit intimidated by the semicolon,
said Judith Gardiner, an English professor at the University of Illinois at
Chicago. "They tend not to use it. It's designed for relatively complicated
thoughts and sentences. The tendency is to want to be short and snappy,
to come to the point."

Ah, but for adventurous students, the semicolon has become an
irresistible challenge, she said. Compared with the bungee-jump of attempting a
semicolon, employing a comma packs all the adrenalin rush of stepping off a
curb when you have a "Walk" light. "Students who do use the semicolon tend to
know what they're doing," Gardiner said."

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