The semicolon may be the most overlooked punctuation mark out there, and since I’m all about promoting the underrated, here are three reasons why I love the lovechild of the comma and the period.
If you’re like most other people, you probably don’t know how to properly use a semicolon. Unfortunately, there are no scientific studies researching if people employ punctuation correctly, so this is more of an educated guess. If you want, though, you can convince me of the opposite by voting in the poll below:
Either way, the Oatmeal has compiled a comprehensive as well as hilarious list about a lot of scenarios where a semicolon would be appropriate (such as being attacked by a bear). So if you want to learn its purpose, memorize their words.
If that’s too much effort for you, remember this: Semicolons lie somewhere in between commas and periods; loosely connected sentence fragments are best welded together by the dash-dot.
Again, I couldn’t find any statistical data on the average occurrence of punctuation marks in English texts (what’s up with the lack of linguistic research? Get on it, science!), but I’d say wanting to use a semicolon compares to finding a spider in your house: It does happen every now and then, but certainly not all the time (if it does where you live… what are you still doing in that spider-infested hell hole?!). And whenever there is one in front of you, you ask yourself what to do with it: “Do I get rid of it? Or should I just leave it there?”, and then: “Too risky – it might lay eggs in my mouth while I’m asleep.”
Anyway, I counted the individual punctuation marks in the Wikipedia article about the USA and semicolons accounted for less than 0.05% of all characters (excluding spaces). Compare that to about 1.3% for its sibling and most abundant friend in the world of punctuation: the comma. The winner, of course, is the letter E/e – adding up to nearly 11% of characters in this specific text.
It’s kinda sad that the semicolon sees so little usage, but that makes it all the more special to me. Every time I get to press the “Shift” and “,” keys together, my little heart jumps (though I might have to get that looked at by a doctor.)
A line with a point on top – isn’t that just charmingly odd? Most punctuation marks are one-piece symbols. Period, comma, bracket, dash, slash, etc. – all of them require only a single stroke. The semicolon, however, extravagant and sophisticated as it be, demands mindfulness: a scratch and a dot, nothing more, nothing less.
Sure, the colon is similar. But it’s not nearly as elegant. After all, it shares its name with one of our intestines. That’s nasty. And don’t even try to mention the pound; complex is not the same as beautiful. Plus, nobody likes a social media whore.
The semicolon is something special, something unique. The odd one out sometimes, but that’s the price you pay for being true to yourself.
What do you think about the semicolon? And what’s your favorite punctuation mark to use? Add your thoughts in the comments below!