Standing up for semicolons
The aim of this blog is to try to make sense of the world. And I take the view that you’re unlikely to be able to make sense of anything unless ideas are clearly expressed. And for that, you need – at least when the ideas are expressed in writing – punctuation.
Me? I need semicolons. They give me time to think; they give you, as reader, time to catch your breath. I returned from Bucharest to discover a piece in The Guardian all about the semicolon: there is, apparently, a growing fear that it is on its way to oblivion. (Note, by the way, that I used a full colon in the preceding sentence: that’s because, as here, the clause after it amplifies and builds upon what went before.)
A colleague once told me that I was the only broadcaster she’d ever met who put semicolons into radio scripts. I suppose the sad fact is that I’m a little bit in love with them: I like their half-smile and gentle manner; I feel sorry for them as the world scurries past, too preoccupied to notice what useful creatures they are.
I know it is possible to write sensibly without them … you can use dots – or dashes -- to separate complex thoughts. But when I edit someone else’s work, I always try, when they’re not looking, to insert a few semicolons. It does wonders for the style and comprehensibility of their prose, and it adds elegance to their writing.
George Bernard Shaw apparently once told T.E. Lawrence that not using semicolons was “a symptom of mental defectiveness”. I don’t go that far, but nor do I subscribe to the Kurt Vonnegut view that “they are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
So help me out here ... promise to use at least one semicolon a day. They must not be allowed to die.