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Honoring the Semicolon
April 30, 2008
I guess it is about time the semicolon got its due. Here’s a little excerpt of a book I ran across recently. It is written by Lewis Thomas (whoever that is or was…):
I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.
I will also include Thomas’ thoughts on the ever-annoying exclamation mark. I do so for the benefit of my friends David and Paul who have had discussions about this very topic. In fact, David sought out Paul at Together for the Gospel precisely so he could meet him and tell him to stop using so many of them. I think Thomas would be on your side, David!!!
Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!
You can read the rest of Thomas’ thoughts on punctuation here.