A Pause to Savor: My Ode to the Semicolon

I have a soft spot for the semicolon and its way of injecting a sentence with suspense. Although use of this punctuation mark is somewhat habit-forming, when properly deployed it creates a taut, tantalizing gap between related independent clauses. Periods, though often necessary, have a certain finality to them. The semicolon can perfect a paragraph when used on occasion; it announces that there is more yet to come. As someone who is constantly searching for additional information, I am delighted when I come across a semicolon, promising me that another juicy nugget is imminent.

Speaking on both colons and semicolons, author Lynne Truss compares these stops to internal springs, propelling readers forward towards new ideas[1]. Lawrence A. Weinstein attributes the semicolon a noble, unselfish quality, offering “an unrequited gesture of amplification”[2] by elaborating on preceding text. “It’s a sign of forthcoming, of being ungrudging in providing for the needs of others,”[2] he writes.

Experts such as William Zinsser[3] entreat writers to use the semicolon with discretion, thus contributing to its intrigue. Like a morel mushroom or an exquisitely rich piece of chocolate, a deftly handled semicolon is rare and must be savored.

[1] Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Great Britain: Profile Books, 2003)

[2] Lawrence A. Weinstein, Grammar for the Soul: Using Language for Personal Change (Illinois: Quest Books, 2008)

[3] William Zinsser, On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990)

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