To semicolon or not to semicolon

October 16, 2011

This seems to be the year of grammar. I see grammar articles everywhere — how to do it right, what we’re doing wrong, and even one from “The Wall Street Journal” that says, “Grammar’s all a big sham.”

For some reason, I’ve been stuck on guidelines regarding semicolons. I’ve never used them much, so thought I’d give them a whirl. Now, I see them everywhere, too.

From Jane Austen in “Anne of Green Gables:”

“So far, the ordinary observer; an extraordinary observer might have seen that the chin was very pointed and pronounced; that the big eyes were full of spirit and vivacity; that the mouth was sweet-lipped and expressive; that the forehead was broad and full; in short, our discerning extraordinary observer might have concluded that no commonplace soul inhabited the body of this stray woman-child of whom shy Matthew Cuthbert was so ludicrously afraid.”

Five semicolons, one sentence.

The next week, I see this on Twitter:

Kurt Vonnegut

Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
For risk of disappointing Jane or irritating Kurt, I think I’ll stick with periods.

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