Monday, April 25, 2016

The Scorned Semicolon

            Yesterday I met with one of my beta readers.  She gave me valuable feedback about my manuscript.  I appreciated the time she took to sit down with me and thoughtfully explain all of her answers to the 17 beta reader questions.  As we worked through them, she came to the question that read:  Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?   She pointed out that she wasn’t an expert on punctuation, but made an observation:  “You didn’t use a single semicolon in your entire book.”  Her eyes were filled with amazement, as if she’d never read anything so completely devoid of semicolons in her life.
            “Semicolons freak me out,” I replied.  Then I added, “Honestly, they scare the bejeezus out of me.”
            “I added one somewhere, but I’m not sure if I used it right,” she said.
            “See?  They’re mysterious and confusing!” I sat back and folded my arms, satisfied to have justified my avoidance of the blasted punctuation symbol that confused and confounded me so completely.
            What is a semicolon, exactly?  It’s not a colon. I know how to use a colon.  It’s not a comma.  I can handle a comma.  It’s as if the colon and the comma had a baby and created the semicolon.  Wikipedia defines it this way: semicolon or semi-colon (;) is a punctuation mark that separates major sentence elements. A semicolon can be used between two closely related independent clauses, provided they are not already joined by a coordinating conjunction.  
            Here’s where my frustration lies.  The definition begins with two ways of spelling the darn thing.  Which one is right?  Both?  Fine.  It separates major sentence elements…but doesn’t a comma also do that?  Just like his momma, that semicolon.  Then the definition goes on to say that it can be used between two closely related independent clauses provided they are not already joined by a conjunction.  So there you have it.  The semicolon is largely unnecessary.  Conjunctions can connect clauses together and periods can allow for two separate thoughts even if they are similar.  Aren’t varying sentence lengths appealing in writing?  Aren’t they? 
            My friend, agreeing with my arguments, but defensive of the semicolon due to the fact that her copyeditor added some to her manuscript, shook her head.  “Maybe when you get to the copyediting stage, some semicolons will be added,” she offered. 
            Perhaps, and that would be fine with me.  I am of the opinion that only experts in the field of editing and semicolons should wield them.  I’m suspicious of them.  Isn’t everyone?  They’re deceitful and sneaky.  Who really knows where they go?  Certainly not me!

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