Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Respite of the Semicolon

“Sometimes you get a glimpse of the semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through the woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.” Lewis Thomas

I love the image that Lewis Thomas’s description of the “once enigmatic” semicolon conjures up. I can almost see myself climbing up a steep path of writing, to settle restfully, if only for a moment, on the gracious semi-colon. I say “once enigmatic” because just two short months ago, I was one person in a mass of people confused by the purpose and proper placement of this grammatical gem. As we began our study of the “parts of speech” and settled for a moment on conjunctions, the dark cloud of ignorance was dispelled from my mind. As I read the Introductory class blogs of others, I became aware that I was not the only one who had questions about grammar that would hopefully be answered within PROW 100; Caleb articulates his thoughts within his first blog.

“The Glossary of Grammatical Terms” within our Correct Writing text defines the semicolon: “A Punctuation mark used to separate independent clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction, coordinate elements internally punctuated with commas, and independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction but heavily punctuated internally" (477). Three sentences that require the use of the semicolon are as follows:

  1. I eagerly began the westward climb up the steep, moss-covered path; the morning air was damp, and the dew from the newly budded red clovers sparkled in the August sunlight.
  2. I could feel warm droplets of rain begin to fall just before I stopped for lunch; however, my thoughts were on the ancient old growth forest of Cathedral Grove, and I barely noticed.
  3. I have wondered at the majesty of Queets Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, USA; the immensity of the Japanese Cedars in Yukushima, Japan; and the beauty of the temperate rain forests in Great Otway National Park, Victoria, Australia; but within the rain forests of my home on Vancouver Island BC, I feel peace.
Shocking as it may seem, there are people out there who despise the semicolon and would be happy if it were dropped forever from the list of acceptable punctuation tools. Check out this blogger's proposed murderous "revolution" against it! I have one question for him: "What did the semicolon ever do to you, besides give you rest in an otherwise cruel, and unforgiving literary world?" People fear what they do not understand, and in my humble opinion, people do not understand the semicolon. Fortunately though, there are also those who love it and have fought to defend it's honor. I'm with them.

Find out what Grammar Girl has to say about the semicolon!

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I think semicolons are capable of making a sentence more interesting, even though I do not always use them correctly. Every aspect of the English language has a purpose, which includes the semicolon. I would be fighting with you to protect it.