The sexy semicolon

When did the semicolon make a comeback? It used be that it was one of those esoteric little punctuation marks that would brand the user as a smarty-pants, someone who possibly even knew the difference between who and whom. It was rarely seen, but when it did appear, it was in an appropriate context. Lately, though, I’ve been seeing it everywhere (like the tropical berry du jour that shows up in every overpriced product from lip gloss to nutritional supplements), appropriate or not. Yes, the world seems to have rediscovered the semicolon. The world, however, seems to be reluctant to learn how to use it properly.

  • I see it used in place of a colon, which is absolutely never right, regardless of similarity of name. It is related but not interchangeable, like fraternal twins.
  • It may sometimes be used instead of a comma—which it resembles—but only in certain situations. Think of it as the über-comma. It separates phrases that are themselves divided by commas.
  • It may be used to link two related sentences (i.e., two independent clauses) instead of separating them by a period.

So here’s how it’s done:

The bride was unable to decide which bouquet she liked best; she took snapshots of her three favorites: cabbage roses, mock-orange blossoms, and white peonies; daisies, lilies, and baby’s breath; and orchids.

Use it correctly and most of the world still won’t know how smart you are, but I will know, and what’s more important, you will know.

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