Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Semicolon, my new love

People who read here must have realised that my knowledge of all things punctuation-y is flimsy. In the past, I’ve thought- ‘Okay now I’ve got it’ but, sadly, I didn’t, and when someone pointed it out I felt a bit embarrassed about my proclamation made firmly from Dunderhead Land. I bought Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (ESL) and somehow feel I’ve made a breakthrough. I think I now understand the scariest punctuation mark of them all: the semicolon.

Before ESL, I avoided the semicolon. I just accepted it was a punctuation mark out of my league. It was for writers who really got it; people who know what a non-defining participle clause is, for example. Those people do not include me. I just accepted that I would make my way through the writing world with the comma and the full stop. I would manage. If I needed more, I might resort to a dash, but that was moving toward shaky ground. It was okay. It was a smaller life, but still a life.

But after ESL, I feel I can now use the semicolon with a bit of authority. And doesn’t writing look so nice with a semicolon? It is one of the handsome punctuation marks, not the most handsome though; I still love a question mark, but frankly, who doesn’t?

Semicolons alleviate your reader from that timeless question all readers battle with-“Did I pause long enough there?” The writer who is adept with the semicolon allows the reader to rest at ease, literally. She takes the reader by the hand and says, “I don’t want you to pause as long as a full stop or rush off in a comma-like sort of way. I want you to wait for that in-between length; a semicolon length”. It makes the reader believe that you know what you are doing; that you know why an intermediate length pause is needed at that particular spot. It is a reason quite highbrow and literary, and it will be very difficult for the reader to figure it out. They must just accept that you know what is best for them. And that’s good; readers like that- being bossed around. Of course, the side benefit is you come off looking far smarter than you actually are. It’s win-win.

So use that semicolon; there is nothing to be afraid of.
(Unless you use it incorrectly on your blog and some smarty pants points it out.)


Helen Ginger said...

Don't take this wrong, but your post made me laugh.

Never knew the semicolons best use was to boss around the reader!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Alice Munro, one of my fave short story writers, uses the semicolon in a masterful way. I pause like nothing on earth when I read one of her semicolon-imbued paragraphs. Semicolons should be feared less and appreciated more. LOL.

MJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauri said...

Helen- have no fear it was meant to be funny.

Melody-Jane- I think we should start a movement promoting the semicolon. I've also been thinking about the question mark, as I've said I am enamoured with it. Perhaps we could all go Spanish and put them at the front and back of questions. Or even just in any sentence that we're not quite sure about. We should think about it.

Selma- I must search out your Alice Munro. I have one anthology with a story of hers in but have read nothing else. Off topic Selma- I am having such a time with internet right now and I seem to have been selectively banned from certian sites.One is yours. I did read a bit last night but couldn't comment same goes for SEF.