Tuesday, July 03, 2012

If We Let Semicolons Marry...

I came across a nice essay on the semicolon over at NYTimes today.  I'm a fan, in case you couldn't tell, but it seems not everyone is. The writer, Ben Dolnick, quotes an amusing anecdote from Kurt Vonnegut on the subject:

“Do not use semicolons,” he said. “They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
This only endears the semicolon to me. I find it one of the most musical of tools in the language. The semicolon allows you to impinge on other thoughts, other sentences, often in a rhythmic or as Dolnick points out when discussing William James, symphonic way; in the present tense, the use of the semicolon can help achieve a certain kind of kinetic energy that has always appealed to me. I love music. If I had a choice of any artistic ability, it would be to create music. The only way for me to even try is through words. I fail daily, but I keep tapping away at beats I hear in my head. I marry them to images, and then dialogue, and time them to punctuation. I have this fantasy any of it makes sense. Periods are absolute. Non-negotiable. Music, like language, is always a negotiation. Fluid.

It surprises me, the hostility Vonnegut had against the semicolon. The language he uses is especially grating. You could do worse heeding the advice of Kurt Vonnegut, but I'd suggest giving every instrument in the language a try. Music is music; language is language.

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