Evolution of the Semicolon

Posted: January 21st, 2014, 9:36 am   By: brittany.corners

The semicolon has gained popularity with the use of it increasing more recently. Many American writers and grammar gurus have historically held this punctuation mark in disdain, and its use has a storied history of fueling an emotional debate. In fact, two Paris law professors even dueled with swords over its use.

Edgar Allen Poe helped the semicolon fall out of fashion in the 1850s, and the popularity of the telegraph, where punctuation cost just as much as letters and words, made the use of this punctuation even more obsolete. The use of the written word on the internet has brought lovers of the semicolon together, which has increased its popularity.

If you are like most writers, you probably either love or hate using the semicolon. If you fall into the category of haters, how much of your disdain is because of the punctuation itself, and how much is because you view it as some form of secret handshake to which you are not privy?
The secret to using the semicolon is in understanding how and when to use it. Instead of the hard stop of a period, the semicolon is more like a rolling stop at a stop sign. It is more subtle, and it allows for a smooth transition between thoughts and ideas. It shows a connection, builds a bridge. You can use a semicolon in one of three ways:

  1. Joining two independent clauses without a conjunction
  2. Try a giant gummy worm to satisfy your sweet tooth; it is the perfect 4,000 calorie, 26-inch long sugary snack. (Yes, it exists.)

  3. Joining two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb (moreover, nonetheless, however, indeed, etc.).
  4. Taunting your pup with words describing mouthwatering meats can prove amusing; indeed, the ultimate dog tease proves it.

  5. Separating complex items in a series
  6. To get the squirrels in your yard drunk, you can leave out rotting, fermented pumpkins; whip up a batch of nut-flavored, homemade brew; or, since they probably like milk, set out a bowl of vodka, coffee-flavored liqueur and milk.

Using the semicolon is a beautiful thing when you use it properly and sparingly. Much like using too much toilet paper clogs your toilet, using too many semicolons does the same to your writing.