Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Like It; Yes, I Do

After years of telling students, "Don't use the semi-colon. You don't know how, and I don't think it's really that necessary," I have finally decided that I actually DO find a semi-colon, now and then, a little bit necessary. The thing is, I just didn't understand how to use them. That was an okay excuse for a while, but my students soon began to pester me. "Semi-colons are going out of style" simply wasn't enough to keep them from wanting to use them; thus, I had to learn the usage and merit of the semi-colon.

I had cleverly fashioned my policy regarding this mark of punctuation after taking a class with Dr. Nasheeb Shaheen, who said, more than once, "A semi-colon is a weak period," in his characteristic drone. That was enough for me to decide that, in addition to the fact that I didn't really know how to use one anyway, the semicolon needed to be absent from my writing life.

However, it kept coming back, poking its nose into my business, rearing its ugly head. Too often I marked in bright purple ink (I refuse to use red when grading papers) "DON'T USE SEMICOLONS," on a student's work; too often I repeated the narrative of my time with Dr. Shaheen to students that asked how to use a semi-colon. The Guardian even published an article on the fate of this grammatical tool: The End of the Line?

I finally had to relent; my clever avoidance of the issue was not sufficient. I have slowly begun to explore the world of the semi-colon. I have dipped my toes into the waters of punctuating creative expression. I have opened my heart to the frontier.

As some woman I read about said:

Sadly, anyone lazily looking for an excuse not to master the colon and semicolon can always locate a respectable reason, because so many are advanced. Here are some of the most common:

1. They are old-fashioned.

2. They are middle-class.

3. They are optional.

4. They are mysteriously connected to pausing.

5. They are dangerously addictive ...

6. The difference between them is too negligible to be grasped by the brain of man.

Lynne Truss

Hey lady: Don't use a comma with "because" unless the dependent clause comes at the beginning of the sentence. Gees.

1 comment:

diana said...

okay, first of all, I LOVE semi-colons. I use them all the time. I mean, how else are you supposed to make your emoticon wink?

second, one of the more brilliant things that my music professor stressed during a grueling improvisation class is that rests are just as important as the notes themselves. it's the same thing with language. a semi-colon allows you to manipulate the space within a sentence unlike comma and period usage. it's like attaching a dot to your quarter rest. it turns the phrase. it syncopates. it makes all the difference. ;)