Saturday, January 28, 2006

In Praise of the Semicolon

I'd like to mention that I have recently begun using the semicolon more often in my writing; I find it a handy way to join thoughts that would otherwise be separate sentences. For a long time I avoided the semicolon; like many others, I regarded it as a juiced-up comma, fit mainly for use in complex series ("He is survived by his only daughter, Alexis; his three sons, Tom, Dick and Harry; and his dog, Fido).

But the semicolon can be used for so much more; think of the sentences I can join now that I couldn't before; think of the Proustian lengths these sentences might now be able to obtain, especially if I throw in a comma or two, or three, or four; and imagine the excess that could result if I added a colon toward what you would imagine to be the end: Now that, friends, that would be a fine thing.

Problems can result, of course; after depriving oneself of a punctuation mark for so long, one might be tempted to overuse it. I doubt that would happen with me and the semicolon, though; we're just getting acquainted.