Seriously, when was the last time you used a semicolon? Are you so afraid of using it wrong that you just don’t? Did you know that it’s considered the most controversial punctuation mark?
This past week I came across an essay on the diminished use of the semicolon, and it piqued my interest. I confess that I’m a big fan of that particular mark of punctuation; sometimes, a comma just can’t do the job, and using a period to create a full stop hews my ideas too radically. If you shy from using it, here’s a simple piece of wisdom from a 17th century language expert; Richard Hodges gives us this guidance: “At a comma, stop a little; at a semicolon, somewhat more.” (Follow link here to ThoughtCo.)
The essay that caught my interest, “The melancholy decline of the semicolon” by Will Lloyd (follow link here) was a delightful look at how authors and readers feel about the inherent worth of a punctuation mark that is so often misunderstood that it engenders strong feelings of contempt. Imagine that! A tiny grammatical function has the power to incite loathing.
Pause to consider what Ben Platt discovered in 2017: from 1800 to 2000, semicolon usage decreased 70%. Also, researchers at Lancaster University tell us that in the last 30 years, usage of the semicolon has decreased by 25%. One should not conclude that I’m a smug know-it-all when it comes to grammar and punctuation. I make lots of mistakes, and I frequently will re-write chunks of sentences just to avoid cornering myself in a situation in which only the best editors and language experts can maneuver with finesse. But there are times when I will not be dissuaded from its use; I will not, as others might suggest, use the em-dash or simply slap a period down with a sense of dramatic finality. I worry, too, that I’ll wake up one of these mornings and the headlines will be some version of: “Semicolon Usage to be Outlawed.” Just as worrisome is the thought that I’ll be among the 5% still using the semicolon, while the rest of the population will be communicating entirely in acronyms and sentence fragments. At some point, someone will ask with complete bewilderment, “What’s a sentence?” SMH WTF