It’s time for one of my periodic rants.
You all know the use of common punctuation such as periods (“full stop” if you’re British), commas and quotation marks.
Then there’s this thing called a semicolon.
What the heck is a semicolon. And of what use is it to someone attempting to communicate?
YOU ARE TRYING TO COMMUNICATE, RIGHT?
Look, if you are writing something, I’m going to assume you are trying to communicate.
That is to say, you’re trying to cause some kind of effect on an audience that involves their understanding. You’re trying to get ideas across.
Of course, maybe you are only trying to impress. That’s a kind of effect too. But let’s leave that alone because that is not what this article is about.
Impressing people may be useful but it is limited. Once you’ve impressed them, then what? “Joe really impressed me!” “Great, what does he do?” “I have no idea.”
Ordinarily you’re trying to impart some kind of idea or ideas to an audience. You are doing that through the medium of words and symbols, whether spoken or in writing.
This may be a new thought, but that result is utterly dependent on the audience understanding the meaning of those words and symbols you are using.
If I say, “Hob up qwalz zhvoo” it is not likely to lead to some kind of concept arriving at the other end. Let alone their taking any action (other than carefully backing away from me).
In this case, I really didn’t have anything in mind. But let’s say that is a perfectly sensible thing to say in Zhorshuva, the mythical language of the mythical members of a tribe living on the banks of the Danube.
And you don’t speak Zhorshuva.
Now exactly what have you accomplished with that “communication?”
YES RICH, I GOT THAT, SO WHAT ABOUT SEMICOLONS?
I would like to present the radical notion that using semicolons is just about as useful as speaking in a foreign language the reader doesn’t know.
Because hardly anyone knows what a semicolon is or means.
Do you disagree with me? Ask a few people, “what’s a semicolon mean?”
Of course you say, but it’s just a tiny little symbol. That isn’t going to confuse anybody.
Or maybe it only confuses most people a little bit.
It is a fact, that every time you use a semicolon, you are directly sabotaging your own effort to communicate, to a greater or lesser degree.
And to what end?
BUT THERE’S GOOD REASONS WHY SEMICOLONS EXIST!
I could just say “Oh Really?” And leave it at that.
But out of consideration for the semicolon lovers (I know you’re out there), let’s explain what a semicolon is and what it is for.
First of all, a semicolon is literally like a semi-literate. That is less than completely a colon. A colon being two periods placed one above the other. A colon is used to introduce, amongst other things, a list of items, an example or explanation:
The sentence above is an example of the correct use of a colon.
A semicolon is top half of a colon, bottom half a comma. The truth is the name isn’t the best. A more accurate name could be a “semi-period.”
A period ends a sentence. A comma, amongst other uses, joins two sentences in a sort of neutral fashion:
Joe is tall, Mary is short.
It’s agnostic about the relationship of the two parts. But you know they are related.
Now let’s make it into a semicolon:
Joe is tall; Mary is short.
What is the difference between those two sentences? The truth is NOT MUCH.
The standard explanation is that the two parts of the sentence are closely related. But you wouldn’t be joining two sentences into one, whether by comma or by semicolon, without them being related in some way. Otherwise you’d get head-scratchers like these:
Joe is tall, Mary is Swedish.
Joe is tall, wood is hard.
Joe is tall, give me liberty or give me death.
YOU SEE WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS
I KNOW there are semicolon lovers out there. I know you will put up an impassioned plea as to the subtleties of the difference between a comma and a semicolon. And you will be right.
Except for just this one thing.
If almost no one gets the point, what’s the point of using a semicolon?
Nothing. None. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero. All of which are words that mean: None at all.
Which is why here at thirteen05 creative we have a firm rule:
NO SEMICOLONS ALLOWED HERE.
Thank you for listening.