I have always thought of the semi-colon as the adverb of punctuation. The semi-colon is much misunderstood, mistaken for an indulgence, something tacked on to a sentence; often seen as a frill, a bad writing habit, something to be sought out in search-and-destroy revisions on a work in progress. Some argue it is easily replaceable by the comma or the period, depending on how much breath you want to give a reader. Like adverbs, it’s often disparaged as a writerly self-indulgence. So I’m grateful to Katherine Hauth for sending me the link to a PW article by Cecelia Watson: homage to a punctuation mark for which I’ve always had a sneaking fondness.
And now I know why. I loved the historical references in Watson’s article, but that wasn’t all. The little asides on germs and racehorses were nice enough, but no, they weren’t the compelling part for me; it was the gendered criticism of the little squiggle I’m partial to that got me.
Criticisms of the semicolon—and there have been many—are often couched in peculiarly gendered terms. Ernest Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, and Kurt Vonnegut avoided them, with the latter describing them as “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.”
Ha! Really, Kurt Vonnegut? I’m getting hold of Watson’s book as soon as I can, for some immersive semi-colon therapy.